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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

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Therapist Continues Credit Card Misuse After Arrest

The logo of Crooks' practice

By Christopher South

COURT HOUSE – Despite entering pre-trial intervention (PTI) in an arrangement with the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, several clients have alleged that former Ocean City therapist Ashley Crooks continues to practice as a ‘soul coach’ and has mismanaged payments since entering the arrangement with authorities in August. 
Crooks was arrested in February for stealing $40,000 from clients for psychic readings.
In response to a request for comment from the Herald, prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Cheryl Spaulding said that the only named victim in the case is Sanctuary Ventures, the website that offers the psychic readings. 
Spaulding said the PTI coordinator believes Crooks has moved to Massachusetts and is dutifully complying with the terms of her arrangement. “She has since closed all her operations in Ocean City,” Spaulding told the Herald.
But the Herald has spoken with five clients who say they’ve continued to see her virtually and in-person and that they were severely misled about what was happening behind the scenes.

Background

Ocean City Police charged Ashley P. Crooks, 32 with one count of fraudulent use of credit cards and one count of theft by deception on Feb. 2, 2022, after the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office received a complaint from Sanctuary Ventures Inc., regarding the alleged misuse of customer credit cards by Crooks, who was a licensed psychotherapist practicing out of Ocean City.
Sanctuary Ventures’ focus is on astrology, tarot reading and numerology. The company told the prosecutor that credit cards used at Crooks’ business, Counseling by the Sea, were being charged for her personal use. 
The complaint says that Crooks charged approximately $40,000 to clients’ credit cards. According to the complaint, Crooks admitted to the offense. 
The prosecutor’s office verified that Crooks surrendered her license as a therapist and on Aug. 8 entered a PTI program for first-time offenders. 
PTI will keep her from having to serve jail time and will lead to the dismissal of the charges altogether if she completes the terms of the arrangement as they’ve been set.

What the Clients Say

Several clients, whose names are withheld for the sake of privacy, told the Herald of their experience as clients of Crooks. 
One woman said she was Crooks’ client for nearly six years. She feels not only victimized but also betrayed. She said she trusted Crooks with everything.
“She consistently overcharged my credit card,” she said. “And she emailed me saying it was a ‘glitch’ in the system and that she would ‘look into it.’ I have yet to get a refund.”
The client said she had an appointment with Crooks on the day of her arrest, which Crooks canceled due to a “client emergency.”
 She said in April, Crooks told her that she planned to drop her license and become a life coach, with the explanation that it would allow her to expand her business and work across state lines. The client said Crooks asked her and others to sign a contract with her as a “soul coach,” but that the fees would not change and that the therapeutic services they received would continue uninterrupted. 
Unbeknownst to the client, Crooks turned in her therapist’s license the same week she signed the contract, and two weeks later Crooks announced she had moved to Cape Cod and her sessions would all be virtual. The client said that was not true.
“I saw her five days ago,” the client said Oct. 11. “She entered pretrial in August and continued to charge me an additional $600 in the month of September. This woman has learned nothing.”
The client said she and others have filed reports at the local police station and are trying to contact the prosecutor regarding this case. 
A second client said that since Crooks changed her title to soul coach there have been several errors in charges to her credit card, which Crooks allegedly blamed on a new processing system. After receiving notice of her credit card being declined, this client called her bank. 
She said she was only double charged for one session but was never refunded the overcharge. On Oct. 14, she learned she had been charged three times for upcoming sessions. She said Crooks blamed it on an employee who was handling scheduling and payments, saying she would speak to her. It happened again a week later, and Crooks allegedly said she would look into it further. 
A third client said she had been seeing Crooks for about two years and saw her as a client within the last few weeks. She learned Crooks was arrested for allegedly misusing clients’ credit cards through a news article from September. 
“That was my first awareness of it, and I was very shocked. I had no idea she was arrested in February,” she said. 
This client also said Crooks told her in April that she was expanding her business and tapping into techniques that a license would have prevented her from using. 
“She definitely knew what she was doing,” the client said. “She’s a smart woman and an amazing therapist. She was very intellectual…It’s almost creepy, that she has lied and told people different variations of what her life is. It makes me question a lot looking back now,” she said. 
This client said she knew nothing about Crooks entering pretrial intervention in August, but when she learned of the charges, she contacted others who were Crooks’ clients, who were also her close friends, and shared the article. She said some of the clients went to the Ocean City Police Department.
A client filed a police report with the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) Oct. 11, obtained by the Herald. In it, the client alleges continued issues with credit card billing, long past Crooks’ February arrest.
The OCPD declined to provide any arrest reports or complaints on Crooks to the Herald, saying the matter had been turned over to the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office in February. 
Another client said she found incidents of being double-charged and inconsistent invoicing. She said starting in August she was being billed significantly ahead of sessions, whereas previously a charge would show up on a credit card 24 hours before a session. 
As recently as September she had to contact her bank regarding charges from Crooks being held against her bank account. She called and said she was told, “I will take care of this for you.” 
A fourth client also said she was told by Crooks in mid-September that she was moving to Cape Cod to open a branch office and their final face-to-face session was in two weeks. 
“She brought it up briefly at the end of the session,” she said. 
She said she was told in late August or early September that Crooks had formed a new business as a soul coach. She said she feels there is a good chance Crooks has clients who are not aware of the news of Crooks’ arrest for misusing clients’ credit cards or that she has entered pretrial intervention. 
“It’s interesting that she got away with this for months without the public knowing about it,” she said. “I feel her business should be closed, but she is, in a sense, sneaking around the law–working the loopholes. Her attorney said she did nothing wrong, but this seems super immoral and deceiving.” 
Heather Bailey said she was Crooks’ client for five years and has allowed her name to be used in print.
“I very much liked her,” Bailey said. “In fact, I adored her.”
Bailey said when she first found out that Crooks had been charged with a crime and had entered pretrial intervention, she didn’t immediately believe it. Bailey said she read an article that originally appeared on BreakingAC.com and there was so much information about the case she started to think it might be true. Bailey said she had an appointment scheduled for the same day she saw the article and called to cancel. 
Bailey said she contacted the article’s author to discuss what was published. She then called the Ocean City Police Department, which verified the charges against Crooks. 
Bailey said she first started seeing Crooks when she was at another practice in Cape May Court House. She said Crooks told her at the time that she was going to be getting her own office in a couple of months. She said Crooks opened an office and Bailey had been seeing her there for about two years. 
“I liked her so much I followed her there. I never really got any weird vibes or red flags until recently,” Bailey said. 
Bailey said she contacted Crooks by email, and Crooks attempted to call her back, leaving a voicemail. 
“She left me a message saying the article isn’t real and she was talking to a lawyer,” Bailey said. “But I emailed her and said I’m not coming to my appointment.” 
Bailey said Crooks called her the next morning after canceling her appointment and tried to explain that the credit card company was making errors, that someone had hacked into the system, and that she ended up being charged because she was the listed owner of Counseling by the Sea. 
“She told me she fired an employee who was making the charges, she told me everything I heard was a lie and she would love to have me back. I thought maybe she was telling the truth,” Bailey said. 
Bailey said she no longer believes that and has been experiencing the same scheduling and billing irregularities expressed by the other clients. She said she would be billed on an electronic invoice, and then again when she received a receipt. Bailey said she is still owed a $300 refund from September. 
“And the part that pisses me off is that she’s still practicing – she is still running people’s credit cards,” Bailey said. 
BreakingAC reports that Meghan McCormick Hoerner, Crooks’ attorney, issued a statement saying she had closed her practice in Ocean City, is relocating, and is complying with the PTI orders. Hoerner did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment.
The conditions of the PTI include Crooks giving up her New Jersey license to practice as a therapist, random drug tests, and making restitution in the amount of $29,749.76 to Sanctuary Ventures for 30 charges made to client credit cards.
Spaulding said the county prosecutor’s office has received a few thousand dollars from Crooks and anticipates the remaining restitution money soon. According to the PTI coordinator, Crooks is selling her house and will soon have the money to pay the rest.
When the Herald asked the prosecutor’s office why Crooks was continuing to practice as a ‘soul coach’ and charge the same clients, Spaulding did not have an explanation.
“We did not condone this or even know it was going on,” she said.
When asked about the allegations of continued overcharging, Spaulding said that everything is taken care of. 
“All the discrepancies were resolved, and any questionable charges were credited. To date, there is nobody in our county that is out any money, as far as we know,” Spaulding said.
One of Crooks’ former clients is not going to wait any longer.
Bailey said she has contacted the state Attorney General’s office and filed a report. She believes Crooks has violated the terms of her pretrial intervention. 
Thoughts? Questions? Email csouth@cmcherald.com or call 609-886-8600 ext. 129. 

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