The widow, Geneviève Boghici, grew skeptical when the psychics charged her the Brazilian equivalent of nearly $1 million for their soothsaying services, and she turned to her daughter for advice, according to Correio Braziliense.
She told her mother to pay them right away, the newspaper reported.
Over the next two weeks, the 82-year-old followed that advice by shelling out about $970,000 for “spiritual treatment” in the start of what police in Brazil are alleging was a multimillion-dollar scam led by the very daughter whose counsel Boghici trusted. Instead of honoring that confidence, police said the daughter for years orchestrated a group of purported psychics to swindle about $140 million worth of high-end art, jewelry and money from her mother.
On Wednesday, Rio de Janeiro police assigned to working cases of elderly abuse arrested four members of the gang that preyed on Boghici, police said in a statement. According to Reuters, those in custody included the daughter, and they face charges of embezzlement, robbery, extortion, false imprisonment and criminal association.
In total, police believe at least six people were involved, meaning the investigation continues.
The scam started that day in January 2020 when 48-year-old Sabine Boghici allegedly fed inside information to the psychics she sent to bump into her mother, intelligence they would use to gain her confidence, Reuters reported.
After hooking her mother, Sabine and her accomplices allegedly spent months maintaining the con to bilk the woman out of money, jewelry and artwork. In one part of the charade, Sabine and an accomplice masquerading as a psychic “began to take the artwork from the [mother’s] house, claiming that the painting was cursed with something negative, with negative energy that needed to be prayed over,” Rio de Janeiro police officer Gilberto Ribeiro told Reuters.
Sabine then allegedly fired her mother’s domestic workers so her accomplices could enter the home and take the artwork unimpeded, the Associated Press reported. When, at one point, her mother refused to keep making cash payments, Sabine allegedly took away her cellphone, stopped feeding her and threatened her with a knife, according to Correio Braziliense.
Over the course of the scam, the suspects are accused of stealing 16 pieces of art, including museum-quality paintings from Brazilian masters Tarsila do Amaral and Emiliano Di Cavalcanti, according to the AP. Three of the stolen works — “O Sono,” “Sol Poente” and “Pont Neuf” — were painted by Amaral, described by the Museum of Modern Art as a “daring modernist” with a “signature style of sensuous, vibrant landscapes and everyday scenes.”
During a raid of the home of one of the purported psychics, police found 11 paintings under a bed, Reuters reported. At the bottom of the pile, they discovered “Sol Poente,” which investigators said was valued at about $48.5 million.
Police captured on video the moment an officer discovered the work, according to the AP.
“Wow! Look who’s here!” the officer exclaimed as she removed bubble wrap from the painting. “Oh, little beauty. Glory!”
The painting is a lush depiction of unidentified mammals wading through blue waters. Behind them, a green tree, a green hill, some green cactuses. Behind everything, a brilliant, radiating sun rippling throughout and dominating the background.
The title of the multimillion-dollar masterpiece — allegedly stolen and stashed away only to be unearthed at the unseemly end of an unraveling art plot — translates as “Setting Sun.”
María Luisa Paúl contributed to this report.
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