Attorney: State Dropped Case Against Miss Cleo
The charges were dismissed late last month, but the news media neglected to report the story, her attorney said yesterday.
On Nov. 27, two days after it reached a settlement with the company that operated the Psychic Readers Network, the Florida attorney general's office quietly dropped its case against Youree Harris, better known as Miss Cleo. William J. Cone, her Fort Lauderdale, FL, attorney, said in a statement that he wants to know why the dismissal received no news coverage.
"Cleo has been breaking news for the last year," Cone said. "All we could assume was the media hadn't heard about it."
Cone, who in April decried the charges against Harris as a "witch hunt," asked in the statement whether Florida had pursued Harris "because of race" or political reasons. Harris has claimed to be a Jamaican shaman, though Florida in March released a birth certificate for Harris showing she was born in California.
Of all the government agencies, including several states and the Federal Trade Commission, to bring charges against Psychic Readers Network, only the Florida attorney general brought charges against Harris individually. Others sued Access Resource Services, the Fort Lauderdale company that owned the network.
Access Resource Services has settled most of the charges, including an agreement with the FTC to forgive $500 million in outstanding bills. The Florida attorney general agreed Nov. 25 to drop its charges against Access after the company gave up claims to $44.3 million in charges to consumers in the state.
Dismissal of the charges against Harris, who the state claimed lied about her background, followed. Once the state obtained monetary relief for its consumers, there was no need to continue pursuing Harris, said Joe Bizzaro, spokesman for the Florida attorney general's office.
"Our main objective was achieved," Bizzaro said. "It was not necessary to go any further with her."
However, Bizzaro warned that others should not take a lesson from this case that DRTV spokespeople have a free pass when it comes to claims they make about goods or services.
"We named her and she was the public face of this company," he said. "I would suggest to any celebrities or anybody else publicly identified with a company that they can be held accountable."
In his statement, Harris' attorney noted that the state failed to produce witnesses to testify that Harris was "not real, a fraud or that she gave an inaccurate" psychic reading. Harris was an independent contractor paid to be a spokesperson, rather than an actress, he said.
"I am choosing NOT to make any derogatory or negative statements about the company, the state of Florida or the media," Harris said in a statement. "As I teach all of my students -- keep your breath fresh. The Father will get His justice."