If you turned on a television in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it was nearly impossible to miss a commercial for the psychic Miss Cleo, but before the FBI finally shut down the fraudulent business, it was a junior Court TV reporter who first discovered the scam.
Fresh out of journalism school, Matt Bean was an eager cub reporter when Miss Cleo, who passed away from colon cancer on Wednesday, was at the height of her psychic network success.
Suspicious of the business, Bean – who now works for PEOPLE’s parent company, Time Inc. – began investigating and got a tip that the psychics were actually using a prewritten script, rather than giving real readings.
After getting his hands on one, Bean recorded his reading over the phone, which matched the script 100 percent confirming what he had thought all along the psychic network was a scam.
“That entire company and all the promises they were advertising were built on lies,” says Bean.
“It became apparent that she was the front person for this scandalous organization that was trying to harvest money from people who were very gullible or who were in a bad situation.”
The business empire was constructed by a wealthy South Florida businessman, Steven Feder along with his cousin, Peter Stolz. The pair enlisted Miss Cleo (whose real name was Youree Cleomili) to turn the network into a multi-million-dollar business.
After Bean’s discovery, the FBI launched an investigation into the company eventually shut them down in 2002.
Months later, Bean sat down with Cleomili for an interview about her role in the scam.
“She was just very gracious,” he recalls. “Her dogs were a big love for her, and she was just trying to focus on living her life. She had sort of a holistic outlook on the world and she did believe she had a gift.”
In the final years of her life, Cleomili was still doing readings privately, charging clients up to $100 to chat by phone or in person, despite her admissions of her past.