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Ocean City therapist used patients' credit cards for psychic readings

  • Crime-Courts

An Ocean City therapist who used dozens of clients' credit cards to pay for thousands in psychic readings was admitted into pretrial intervention last month, BreakingAC has learned.

Ashley Crooks, 32, was charged with theft by deception and unlawful use of credit cards after racking up $40,000 in charges over two months on an app texting psychics.

She voluntarily surrendered her license in April, and is now in pretrial intervention, which will allow her to avoid criminal prosecution if she successfully completes the program.

As owner of Counselting by the Sea on Asbury Avenue, Crooks treated children, adolescents and adults struggling with various mental health and substance use disorders.

But, it seems, she developed an addiction of her own.

Crooks told investigators she had become dependent on the Sanctuary Ventures app, which she used "to gain clarity and to help feel better" about a relationship that had ended, according to the incident report obtained by BreakingAC.

After maxing out her own credit cards, Crooks said she started using those of her clients'. She told investigators she didn't know how many she used.

Sanctuary's own internal investigation found her account used about 30 different credit cards over a two-month period, according to the incident report. Another 20 or so were declined at the point of sale.

Crooks was discovered when a Galloway Township woman called Sanctuary Ventures on Dec. 7 to dispute two transactions on her Mastercard bill.

It turned out that woman's child was Crooks' patient.

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Her call sparked an internal investigation by Sanctuary, who later went to police.

On Dec. 15, Sanctuary blocked the account associated with Crooks' email.

Crooks later admitted she created four new email addresses to continue receiving the service.

She was first question by police in February, after an investigator came to her office on Asbury Avenue.

During her initial interview at the police station, Crooks said she had spoken with Sanctuary, who believed her identity had been stolen. She claimed she didn't really use the gmail address attributed to the main account, and that her clients' credit cards were encrypted, so she didn't have access to their numbers.

"Crooks then advised me that her assistant takes the credit card information over the phone," Detective Richard Wilent wrote.

Crooks ended the first interview saying she wanted an attorney, the report states.

But after turning her phone over to Wilent and being told a warrant to search it would be sought, she changed her mind.

"Crooks advised me that she 'f- up,'" Wilent wrote.

At the end of the interview Crooks was booked and released on third-degree charges of theft by deception and unlawful use of credit cards.

On Aug. 8, Crooks was accepted into pretrial intervention, which allows first-time offenders to avoid criminal prosecution by pleading and being admitted into a program.

The specific requirements of her program were not available.

Crooks' attorney, Meg Hoerner, declined to comment.

In April, Crooks voluntarily surrendered her license to practice as a professional counselor in the state.

But when a BreakingAC reporter called Counseling by the Sea asking for Crooks last week, the woman who answered the phone said she was "in sessions all day."

"Ashley Crooks does not work here as a therapist or see clients on a therapeutic basis," someone wrote in an unsigned follow-up email from Counseling by the Sea. "The consent order that she entered into is a matter of public record, and Ashley is in compliance with that order."

Despite BreakingAC asking specifically for Ashley Crooks, the email then added: "Your telephone call was for Ashley and we have a social worker on staff here named Ashley who was in session."

No one answered a follow-up email asking about the discrepancy or in what capacity Crooks is working at the business she still owns and possibly advertises.

A business listing dated Tuesday on highlighted Counseling by the Sea.

"Dr. Ashley Crooks and her female-founded, female-led team of therapists have created a safe and nurturing environment for healing," the article read.

About two hours after BreakingAC sent a request for comment about the article, it was removed from the site. Ocean City Magazine did not respond.

Crooks' listings on places like Healthline remain.

Counseling by the Sea's website no longer seems to mention Crooks at all. But it does mention two awards she has listed as winning: the 2019 Best of Somers Point Awards in the psychotherapist category, and 2017 "Top Counselor" in South Jersey by the International Association of Healthcare Professional, Leading Physicians of the World.

The links associated with those listings do not go to those awards, and BreakingAC could not independently verify them.

Counseling by the Sea is also a contender for Best Mental Health Services for the Best of the Press 2022.


Lynda Cohen

BreakingAC founder who previously worked in newspapers for more than two decades. She is an NJPA award-winner and was a Stories of Atlantic City fellow.




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