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Don't call now: Miss Cleo's company mulls bankruptcy

The television commercials featuring Miss Cleo are gone, and it's just a matter of time before the self-proclaimed shaman will no longer be seen in ads in publications such as the National Enquirer and Weekly World News.

Meanwhile, the Fort Lauderdale company for which Miss Cleo has hawked her psychic talents may be doing a disappearing act of its own before too long _ at least that's the indication given by lawyers for Access Resource Services and its affiliates.

"The company is . . . winding down operations and we are exploring various alternatives, including bankruptcy," said Fort Lauderdale bankruptcy lawyer Michael I. Goldberg, who added that he is negotiating to resolve claims with creditors. He declined to comment further.

The Florida Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission have filed lawsuits accusing Access of duping customers. The allegations include misrepresenting the cost of calls to the psychic hotline and using telephone psychics who read from prepared scripts rather than doing Tarot card readings.

Callers to the company's 800 number are told to call a 900 number, where they are promised five minutes of free readings. After that, callers are charged nearly $5 a minute.

Given the publicity the lawsuits against Access have generated, running the Miss Cleo TV ads would be counterproductive, said Sean Moynihan, a New York lawyer who has handled regulatory issues for Access.

Print ads are still running in national publications only because the ads were paid for in advance. They are not expected to continue. Internet Web sites featuring Miss Cleo remain active, however.

With Miss Cleo no longer gracing the airwaves and regulators stepping up their scrutiny of the company, Moynihan said the number of calls to the psychic hotline has dropped off considerably, and workers at the company's inbound 800 line business in Tamarac and the Fort Lauderdale headquarters have been laid off.

As for Miss Cleo, her lawyer told the Miami Herald this month the fortune teller and Access would be severing their ties.

Imitating a Jamaican accent, Miss Cleo urged television viewers to call the psychic hotline. Last week, however, the Attorney General's Office obtained a copy of Miss Cleo's birth certificate. It showed she was born Youree Dell Harris in 1962 in Los Angeles.