Philadelphia's fortune-tellers are reading palms, tea leaves and tarot cards again, one week after the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections ordered them closed.

The City Solicitor's Office said yesterday that it had advised L&I to back off because the state law banning fortune-tellers seemed better suited to fraud prosecution than to regulation.

Last week, L&I inspectors closed at least 16 establishments after police called the department's attention to a state criminal statute that makes it a misdemeanor for any person to "pretend for gain or lucre to tell fortunes or predict future events."

Andrew Ross, divisional deputy city solicitor, said yesterday that while the law was useful in fraud cases, "we felt it was hard to say what kind of evidence might be needed to prove someone was pretending to tell fortunes."

"I feel very good," said Monica Mitchell, who has operated a psychic shop in Manayunk for eight years.

The city backed off after Mitchell's attorney, John Raimondi, filed a request last week for a restraining order and preliminary injunction on the ground that the statute could be invoked only in cases of fraud.

"What we said is the law is part of the crimes code. You have to prove that someone has been taken advantage of, and you can't expect L&I to enforce that," Raimondi said.

Before the case even reached a judge, he said, "we got a call Monday afternoon from the City Solicitor's Office saying they were agreeing with us and advising L&I to discontinue."

Representatives of L&I did not return repeated requests yesterday for comment.

Scott said city inspectors retained the right to inspect and cite fortune-telling establishments in violation of other city and state codes.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly
at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com.