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msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/21/2011 6:37:56 AM ET 2011-08-21T10:37:56

Prosecutors say a family amassed $40 million in a fortune-telling scam, warning victims that if they didn't follow their advice, terrible things would happen to them or their loved ones.

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Details spilled out in federal court Friday after eight people were arrested earlier this week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurence Bardfeld said victims who were going through vulnerable phases forked over cash, gold coins and jewelry. The defendants promised victims they wouldn't spend the money, but then refused to return it.

The Sun Sentinel reported that one victim, a bestselling author, gave an estimated $20 million.

Citing "several sources," the newspaper identified that victim as Jude Deveraux, author of dozens of New York Times bestsellers.

'Operation Crystal Ball'
Authorities started investigating in 2007 after a victim complained about losing $3,000.

The Sun Sentinel said other alleged victims included a person from Japan who handed over $496,000.

According to NBCMiami, the multi-agency, multi-state investigation was dubbed "Operation Crystal Ball."

An attorney for one family member said the clan provided counseling for victims who had nowhere to turn.

The Associated Press and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.

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