A dispute that could be compared to the plot of a “Sopranos” season, if “The Sopranos” involved Gypsy families fighting over the fortune-telling business in Newport Beach, California, has finally landed in court after years of turf battles.
The Merino and Stevens clans have, according to the AP article, run numerous fortune-telling businesses in Southern California for decades. They are among the estimated 200,000 California Gypsies, or Romani, who are said to “dominate” the fortune-telling and psychic businesses in the state. There is fierce competition among the rival clans, apparently mediated by “a secret council of elders” and a custom of making alliances between families by marriage.
But that ancient system was not enough to prevent open war between the Merinos and the Stevenses from breaking out in 2005. The Merinos wanted into Newport Beach — Stevens territory — but say the Stevenses demanded $500,000 up front plus $5,000 a week. The Merinos said no but started telling fortunes anyway, which — as they probably should have predicted — resulted in a violent response. The Merinos claim that members of the Stevens clan broke into Merino fortune-telling parlors, stole things and threatened to kill the Merinos if they didn’t clear out. Instead of using traditional methods, the Merinos got a restraining order.
That calmed things down until an incident at the funeral last year of George Stevens, head of the Stevens family. Edward “Davie” Marino showed up at the funeral with a “menacingly burly chauffeur,” and a traditional Gypsy graveyard rumble apparently followed. Then it was back to court.
Members of the Stevens clan claim that the Marinos are making up the allegations in an effort to take over the psychic business in Newport Beach. “They beat themselves up,” said one, “and then they testify that we hired people to come to their house and beat them up.” This statement was made by “White Bob” Stevens, who apparently uses that name to distinguish himself from his cousin “Black Bob” Stevens. (Why he did not just use his first name, “Steve,” was not explained.) White Bob Stevens objected to the way the Merinos had characterized him and his family, as if he were a character on “The Sopranos.” “I’m a businessman,” he said. “That’s all I am.”