The witness bore no resemblance to actor Brad Pitt or former Secretary of State Colin Powell, but she testified Friday that she typed letters and emails that appeared to come from them and the messages were sent to best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux.
Debbie Von Beulen told jurors that the content of the messages was dictated to her by Rose Marks, a Fort Lauderdale psychic who is on trial on federal charges that she and her family defrauded $25 million from clients of their clairvoyant businesses.
Prosecutors say Marks defrauded as much as $17 million from Deveraux during the 17 years or more they were friendly.
Von Beulen, 59, of the Scottsdale, Ariz. area, agreed to testify only after being ordered by the court to do so and being granted immunity from prosecution for any information she divulged on the witness stand.
Von Beulen testified that, as far as she knew, she was helping Marks to assist Deveraux in writing her novels.
"I never pretended to be anyone," Von Beulen told jurors. "I never created anything myself."
She said she portrayed the "fictional persona" of Pitt – and Powell – in story lines "to help this woman who was an author to be creative" and "get into character to help her create story lines."
"That was the explanation you were given by Rose [Marks] to write the emails?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Roger Stefin asked.
Von Beulen said she read the emails to Marks, who didn't use computers, and she corrected grammar for Marks, who told the Sun Sentinel that she dropped out of school in the third grade, following the traditions of the Romani, or Gypsy, community. Marks also told the newspaper in December 2012 that she worked for Deveraux as a personal assistant and spiritual adviser and helped her write some of her books.
It remains unclear whether Deveraux, who has had 37 New York Times bestsellers, knew they were writing exercises.
Prosecutors have declined to comment and defense attorney Fred Schwartz said he can't predict what Deveraux will say when she testifies later in the trial.
In some emails between "Pitt" and Deveraux in December 2007, Deveraux wrote that she had just seen him on Larry King's TV show. Records show the real Pitt appeared on the show on Dec. 5, 2007, to discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans.
"Pitt" wrote back that he'd had a very bad day and it was so stressful that he'd stammered on the live show.
Von Beulen said emails and letters to "Pitt" were sent from Deveraux to Von Beulen's post office box and her email account.
The "Colin Powell" communications were handled by faxes between Marks and her, Von Beulen testified. Under questioning by the defense, Von Beulen said those messages discussed a scenario where "Powell" would leave his wife, marry Deveraux and he would become vice president. (John Edwards was to be president in the story line.)
"Were you writing … to trick Jude Deveraux into thinking she was going to be Colin Powell's wife and the Second Lady of the U.S.?" Schwartz asked.
"Absolutely not," Von Beulen said.
Von Beulen testified she found a copy of Deveraux's book "Heartwishes" that she said included a reference to a Brad Pitt story line and a sheriff character named "Colin" who resembled Powell.
Von Beulen, once a highly paid analyst who worked for the federal government in the Farm Credit Bureau and Department of Education, said Marks has been her friend since they met at a Greek Orthodox baptism in 1982 and that they lent each other money. She said Marks saved her life by warning her not to let an ill anesthesiologist handle her surgery.
Von Beulen admitted to prosecutors that she, and a private investigator Marks hired, tracked down detailed personal information about Deveraux and her residence after the writer split away from Marks.
Von Beulen admitted she even accessed Deveraux's personal bank and credit card account records by phone to figure out where Deveraux lived and places she frequented. She denied "stalking" Deveraux and said she used information Marks already had from her work with the writer because Marks was very worried about Deveraux's "disappearance" and thought she was "unstable."
Though Von Beulen said investigators implied she was either a victim or accomplice of Marks, she said she was neither and happily gave Marks some $100,000 over the years, including $20,000 for her defense fund. At the end of her time on the witness stand, she asked for permission to spend time with Marks while she is in South Florida this weekend.
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