An elderly Brazilian woman’s daughter was part of a bizarre scheme to swindle her mother out of more than $140 million worth of art by using a ring of supposed psychics who claimed the paintings were cursed, police said.
Sabine Coll Boghici, 48, plotted to defraud Genevieve Boghici, 82, out of art, jewelry and money worth around 724 million reais, or $142.42 million, police in Rio de Janeiro said in a statement.
At least 16 paintings were stolen from the senior, the widow of the art collector Jean Boghici, police said, adding that works by celebrated Brazilian artists like Cicero Dias, Rubens Gerchman and Alberto Guignard were taken.
Police estimated three of the works, by modernist painter Tarsila do Amaral, to be worth 700 million reais, or $137.69 million, alone.
At least seven people were suspected of involvement in the yearslong plot, police said after Coll Boghici was arrested Wednesday. Several others were also arrested, and two are on the run, police said.
Police said the plot began in 2020, when Genevieve Boghici was approached by someone claiming to be a psychic who had foreseen her daughter's imminent death.
She was then introduced to other psychics, who used personal information provided by her daughter to fool her into believing their claims and hand over money for “spiritual treatment,” they added.
Later, the suspects physically threatened her while her daughter kept her confined to her home for months after she became suspicious of the situation, police alleged.
Her daughter and a supposed psychic then began to remove artwork from the house, claiming that paintings were cursed with a negative energy that needed to be “prayed over,” Rio de Janeiro Police Officer Gilberto Ribeiro said, according to Reuters.
After almost a year of mistreatment, Genevieve Boghici turned to police, who unraveled the stunning alleged scam.
Police said they were able to recover a number of the paintings, including 11 that were retrieved Wednesday during raid on one of the psychic's homes.
Three paintings were recovered in Sao Paulo, while two were found to have been sold to a museum in Buenos Aires. They have yet to be recovered.
A video posted on social media appeared to show the moment one prized painting, Tarsila do Amaral’s “Sol Poente,” or “Setting Sun,” was recovered. Officers appeared to pull it out from inside the bed frame, where it had been hidden under a mattress.
Police released a photo of officers holding up the painting after it was seized.
They said those suspected of taking part in the crime face charges of embezzlement, robbery, extortion, false imprisonment and criminal association.