- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - An Iowa judge has ordered a New York-based company that prosecutors say conned people into paying for outlandish psychic readings and prophecies to stop soliciting Iowa residents and refund nearly $14,000 already sent from them.

Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal on Thursday ordered Joseph Meisels and his Brooklyn, New York-based International Astrology Foundation to pay $13,740 in refunds to 78 mostly elderly Iowa residents bilked by fraudulent mailings.

The judge also imposed a $20,000 penalty and ordered Meisels and his outfit to permanently cease sending letters to Iowa residents asking for money in return for help from fictitious psychics.

No phone numbers could be found Saturday for either the business or Meisels.

The letters addressed the recipients as personal friends and pledged to help them with money challenges, health issues and other problems in exchange for money, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said.

“These mailings were outrageous and outlandish in their deceptive claims and promises from supposed clairvoyants, astrologers, and even extraterrestrials,” Miller said. “Sadly, these predatory mailings found their way to the mailboxes of many elderly Iowans, bilking one 77-year-old Iowa woman out of more than $1,500 in 2014 alone.”

The letters came from fictitious professors, supposed astrologers - even “aliens” sent to Earth to protect the recipient, Miller said.

As an example, Miller produced one letter containing a testimonial from a Professor Magnum Demorarth, with a photo that identified him as chairman of the International Conference of Astrologers and Psychics. But the picture was actually of Ben Bernanke, the former chair of the Federal Reserve.

Miller said the court case stemmed from the efforts of an eastern Iowa woman to get help for her 91-year-old mother, who was discovered to have sent almost all of her money to self-styled psychics and prize promoters.

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