MIAMI – A Florida woman proclaiming to be a Romani “gypsy healer” has been sentenced to 40 months in prison U.S. District Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Southern District of Florida. Sherry Tina Uwanawich, 28, who’s alias is Jacqueline/Jacklyn Miller claimed in court records that she was “endowed with God-given powers and able to assist clients suffering from physical, emotional and spiritual difficulties” and would be able to lift a family curse allegedly afflicting the victim.
A Department of Justice press release stated that, “Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office announced that a South Florida woman was sentenced to prison and ordered to pay $1.6 million in restitution for orchestrating a fraud scheme involving ‘fortune telling’.”
The victim was a 27-year old medical student in Houston who suffered from depression. According to various reports, Uwanawich met the student in 2007 who conferred with Uwanawich multiple times weekly for years. Uwanawich conducted psychic readings and told the victim that her depression was caused by the same curse that had claimed the student’s mother’s life.
Uwanawich claimed that she could lift the “bloodline of this curse and restore the victim‘s life to harmony and balance.” The relationship lasted over a decade during which time, court documents state that Uwanawich conducted “multiple meetings/sessions and interstate telephone conversations over a period of years with the victim.”
Reports state that her psychic readings and de-cursing included the use of expensive materials that consisted of crystals and candles.
Court records also state that Uwanawich needed “jewelry and other personal property to work within the curse removal.” The jewelry was never returned to the victim who was ultimately defrauded of $550,000.
However, while Uwanawich was living in South Florida, the victim sent funds to her from Houston using Western Union. That activity made the crime eligible for federal court.
Uwanawich was charged with three counts of wire fraud. She pleaded guilty in June to one of those counts as part of an agreement with prosecutors. According to the Department of Justice, “The scheme came to an end in early 2014, when Uwanawich admitted to the victim there had been no curse.”
Court records from June 2019 state Uwanawich, “admitted that she had lied about the victim being cursed.” Uwanawich added that, “she came from a family in which ‘fortune telling’ was part of the tradition and claimed that she wanted to break from that lifestyle. She apologized for deceiving the victim and said that wanted to repay her.”
The court has mandated Uwanawich pay restitution having 50% of her future wages from her prison job garnered; or if unemployed, during her prison stay, pay $25 every 4 months. Afterward, Uwanawich will have 10% of her gross earnings garnered on behalf of the victim “until such time as the court may alter the payment schedule in the interests of justice.” To put it in perspective, if she earns an annual salary of $100,000 after release from prison, it will take her 160 years to complete the payments.
In her Facebook profile, Uwanawich followed a number of Pagan groups as well as Christian and Pentecostal pages, including youth ministries.
In a Facebook rant from August 9, a month before her sentencing, Uwanawich defended her “gypsy” identity and discrimination against it. She wrote, “Honestly tired of people saying gypsise [sic] are scum tramps and thieves. I mean like are gypsies the only people in the world who are tramps or thieves what do you really even know about us? And who do you think you are we are all scum tramps and thieves we are all unworthy of gods love and have done one thing or another wrong in our lives.”
Uwanawich added, “We don’t do these things or except them due to morals like any other culture. But how many gypsies have u heard plant a bomb? Now how many nine gypsies? How many gypsies have u heard make a mass shooting at a school church movie theater event? Now how many nine gypsies? I’ve heard much more discussing things that none gypsies have done then gypsies. How many gypsies u know ever started a war? How many gypsies u know had slaves? Killed millions of people of one race? Genocide? Not many huh? So next time you want to call us unbelievable scum gypsies tramps and thieves look in the mirror and look at the people in your own race first and think about what they did first before you judge my race.”
She ended with, “Have a nice day.”
James Stewart Lewis, Uwanawich’s lawyer, told The Washington Post he “feels bad” for his client and the sentence is harsh. Lewis told the Post that Uwanawich “was forced into fortune telling by her family, who are members of the Romani community (also known as Roma). He also claimed that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, which led her to believe that she had psychic abilities.”
Court documents state a request for psychiatric evaluation.
The term “gypsy” is included here to clarify its use by other parties. We recognize it as a problematic word that has been used as a racial slur against the Romani people. It is pejorative connoting illegality, transience, and deceit.
The Romani represent the largest ethnic minority group in Europe that have experienced continued persecution including during the Holocaust when up to 80% of Romani were murdered. While they continue to experience disparate treatment, women bear the brunt of discrimination with limited access to education, labor, legal rights, and reproductive health.
Women, there, are particularly victimized by the term. The stereotype of Romani, specifically as dangerous, hypersexual, and deceitful women, was concretized by Victor Hugo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He describes the 16-year-old Esmeralda as a beauty whose illusion is shattered when she is revealed as a ‘gypsy’: “Her complexion was dark … She danced, whirled, turned around … Her large, black eyes flashed lightning … With her smooth bodice of gold, her colorful dress that swelled with the rapidity of her motions, with her bare shoulders, her finely turned legs that her skirt now and then revealed, her black hair, her flaming eyes, she was a supernatural creature…’In truth,’ thought Gringoire, ‘she is a magical creature, a nymph, a goddess, a bacchanae of Mount Menelaeus!’ At that moment one of the magical creature’s tresses came loose, and a piece of yellow brass that had been fastened to it fell to the ground. ‘But no,’ he said, ‘she is a gypsy!’ The illusion was shattered.”
Editorial Note (2): The original headline included the ethnicity of the individual. We are grateful to some readers who raised concerns about its use.