`Jamaican' Miss Cleo is really from Los Angeles, state claims – South Florida Sun Sentinel

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You may know her as Miss Cleo, Jamaican shaman and psychic.
Government and court documents say she’s Youree Dell Harris, resident of Southwest Ranches in Broward County, and the mouthpiece in an alleged scam.
According to her birth certificate, Miss Cleo/Harris wasn’t born in Jamaica, and those who have known her said the accent’s not real either. She’s from Los Angeles, born to parents native not to the Caribbean but to Texas and California.
The state Attorney General’s Office received a copy of the birth certificate showing Harris as having been born Aug. 13, 1962, in Los Angeles County Hospital.
TheSun-Sentinel obtained a copy Wednesday under the state’s public records law.
“We sought this document because the company has gone to great lengths to say that Miss Cleo is a master shaman from Jamaica,” said David Aronberg, an assistant attorney general. “This would contradict the whole validity of whom Miss Cleo is.”
The distinct accent used by the Miss Cleo character on late night infomercials has been a hallmark of a marketing campaign that has lured millions to pay nearly $5 a minute for supposed glimpses into the future.
Both the attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission last month sued Access Resource Services, the Fort Lauderdale company owned by Peter Stolz and Steven Feder that operates the Psychic Readers Network and airs the infomercials that feature Miss Cleo. The state also named Harris as a defendant.
Aronberg said Harris’ attorney, William Cone Jr. of Fort Lauderdale, has contended the document is a fraud. But Cone said Wednesday he didn’t want to get into a debate about the document or the case.
“I don’t want to say anything about it,” Cone said in an interview.
Cone’s position: Don’t squeeze the shaman.
He said he would continue to argue in court that Harris should not be party to the state lawsuit. As a contractor of Access Resource Services, she should not have to defend herself, Cone said.
But the Attorney General’s Office — which made defendants out of spokesmen Ed McMahon and Dick Clark in a 1998 lawsuit against American Family Publishers — contends that Harris was party to allegedly deceiving consumers.
The bulk of the case against Access Resource Services, though, involves less sexy allegations of improper billing practices.
Access is accused of chasing after people who didn’t call the psychic hotline and trying to collect money from them using questionable tactics.
The company’s New York attorney, Sean Moynihan, could not be reached for comment. He has said the company has complied with prior agreements made with the attorney general, and is not in violation of state or federal law.
In Seattle, a group of actors said they were in a show with Harris in which when she played a Jamaican character named Cleo.
The actors told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer last week that Harris, then an actor/producer known as Ree Perris, told them she was from Los Angeles. They said she had no accent.
She produced three plays there in 1996 and 1997 and the actors said she didn’t end up paying the cast their share after explaining to them that she was suffering from bone cancer and needed the money to pay medical bills.
Cone said Harris would make a statement to defend herself, but he didn’t know when.
Despite the case’s comic elements, Aronberg said the case is essentially one of alleged economic crime.
“This investigation is not just about Miss Cleo,” he said. “It’s about a company that has violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. It’s about a company that has been misleading consumers.”
Mitch Lipka can be reached at mlipka@sun-sentinel.com or 561-243-6653.

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