LOS GATOS, Calif. - Victoria Nelson never thought she’d be homeless at age 73. The Los Gatos kindergarten teacher lived in the same house for 40 years. But then she met a group of self-proclaimed fortune tellers.
In less than a year the group of so-called psychics allegedly drained her bank account, took her belongings and swindled her house away from her – leaving her to sleep on a soiled mattress in a mysterious home in Sacramento, she said.
“Everything is gone. I don’t have anything. I don’t even know where my belongings are,” Nelson said in a recent interview.
Now, after breaking from the alleged perpetrators’ spell – thanks in part to her niece who came to her rescue – Nelson is fighting to get everything back, most importantly her estimated $1.5 million Los Gatos home. She sued the group, hoping the courts will intervene.
The lawsuit, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, alleges Tammy Adams, her husband, Jim Adams, Michelle Marks and other committed financial and physical elder abuse and fraud.
KTVU reached out to Tammy and Jim Adams, and Marks multiple times, including leaving them multiple messages. Tammy and Jim Adams live in a palatial gated community in Granite Bay outside Sacramento. They told the security guard at the front gate that they would not come out for an interview.
“I think it’s absolutely sickening,” said Emanuel Townsend, Nelson’s attorney with Bay Area law firm Cotchette, Pitre & McCarthy.
“These predators were quite sophisticated," he said. "This happened to an elderly woman but I think this could have happened to a lot of people – to anyone really”
Sources tell KTVU that there is a criminal investigation underway, which may be even more wide-spread and uncover more alleged victims.
Nelson knows it may seem inconceivable that anyone would give up their home and all their possessions to someone they barely know. But the perpetrators of sophisticated financial scams often seek out vulnerable people and manipulate them over time.
For Nelson, it started during a July Fourth getaway to Mount Shasta City during the annual street faire. Nelson is a free spirit and admits she believes in psychic powers and angels. At the street festival, she met Marks, aka Mystic Michelle.
Through Marks she then met Tammy Adams and thought she had new friends and confidants with similar beliefs. The Sacramento-area women would call Nelson every night, pray and meditate with her over the phone, she said.
On her website, Adams says she was “born with the ability to speak with angels and spirit guides.” She sells psychic services and has videos on YouTube of her performing purported “readings” to strangers.
Nelson said Adams told her she could communicate with her dead husband and invoked mother Teresa, the Pope and Jesus.
Then things turned dark. Nelson said Adams began telling her she was in danger.
“In the end, I was just fearful for my life, and then I was fearful to be near my loved ones because I feared l for their lives,” she said.
Out of fear, Nelson said she eventually let Adams begin handling her finances and gave her power of attorney.
“Then she told me that I was going to be losing my home and it was very upsetting to me,” Nelson said. “And she said, ‘Well if you give your house to the Angel Foundation, then we can help children.’”
Records show Nelson signed her home over to the House of Angels Foundation last year. The foundation is a registered non-profit operated by Tammy and Jim Adams, but whether it does any charitable work is unclear.
The charity claims to be a church, so it’s not required to file annual public returns with the IRS. A receipt from the Salvation Army shows the foundation donated Nelson’s furniture and jewelry in November – after it took her home.
After signing away her home, Nelson said Adams told her to get a week’s worth of clothing and was dropped off at an empty home in a gritty North Sacramento neighborhood.
She slept on a soiled mattress on the floor for six weeks before she began to realize she’d allegedly been fleeced, Nelson said.
“I was in jail,” she said. “They had me in jail in that place. And she would tell me. Don’t reach out to your family. Everything has to be a secret.”
When her niece, Julie Cane, learned what happened, she rented a van and came to Nelson's rescue.
“I was horrified. It was an incredibly unsafe situation,” Cane said. “Your average senior citizen wouldn’t have survived this as gracefully. And we’re lucky to be healthy and focusing on staying healthy.”
Nelson hasn’t spoken to Adams or her family since. No paperwork has been filed in response to the civil suit yet.
“My greatest wish is that she can’t do it to anyone else,” she said. “I know that she’s done it to other people, so I ask these people to please come forward and tell your story.”
Evan Sernoffsky is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email Evan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @EvanSernoffsky