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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


‘Gypsy’ as a slur an issue in Florida fortune-telling case

MIAMI — A Fort Lauderdale family of alleged con artists is accused of defrauding clients out of $40 million, but one defense attorney in the case says the fortunetelling business isn’t the only thing on trial — the family’s ethnic heritage, too, has become a target.

At issue: the word “gypsy,” which has been mentioned several times in the case against the Markses, a three-generation family of fortunetellers of Romanian Gypsy descent. Defense attorney Fred Schwartz says the word is a slur.

“The connotation of the word ‘gypsy’ is a group of wandering people who go from city to city committing crimes,” said Schwartz, who accuses prosecutors of employing the word as a “tactical advantage” that will make the Marks family seem guilty. The case is expected to go to trial later this year.

Is the word “gypsy” that toxic? Should people employ a less-offensive substitute in its place?

Hogwash, say prosecutors, who insist there’s nothing inherently derogatory about saying gypsy. In court filings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Laurence Bardfeld said the hoopla amounts to nothing more than a defense team “trying to ‘muddy up the waters’ in an attempt to discredit the government.” Bardfeld noted that defense attorneys, too, had used the disputed word in open court, and he even cited several dictionary definitions of the word as further proof of its inoffensiveness.

From the Oxford English Dictionary: “A member of a wandering race (by themselves called Romany), of Hindu origin, which first appeared in England beginning of the 16th and was then believed to have come from Egypt.”

Lastly, Bardfeld singled out one of the family members on trial, Ricky Marks. Marks has posted several family videos on YouTube in which he uses the word gypsy, including a “Gypsy Super Bowl Trip” video that also showcases the family’s collection of luxury cars — the fruits of their lucrative psychic enterprise.

“Obviously, Ricky Marks does not consider the term an ethnic slur,” Bardfeld wrote. Bardfeld did not return a phone call seeking further comment.

Defense attorney Schwartz insists the YouTube videos prove nothing, as he said some blacks use the N-word amongst themselves.

“This does not make the ‘N’ word any less of a racial slur,” Schwartz wrote in court filings. “As Caucasian comedian Michael Richards learned to his sad dismay when ‘Kramer’ used the ‘N’ word in his act and was severely castigated by virtually all of the commentators significantly ruining his career.”

Richards, who became famous playing Kramer on the hit TV series “Seinfeld,” did indeed have a career implosion after he angrily shouted the N-word — repeatedly — while performing a standup comedy routine.

Leanne Pupchek, an associate professor of communications at North Carolina’s Queens University of Charlotte, said the N-word and the word “gypsy” are not the same — the former carries a higher level of explosiveness.

But the latter is not appropriate for a criminal trial, said Pupchek, whose adopted son is of Romany descent.

“As soon as you say in a courtroom, ‘this is a gypsy,’ immediately they are a flight risk, and immediately they are guilty,” Pupchek said.

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