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2 Gypsy clans' feud over fortunetelling offers rare glimpse into insular culture

Published: Friday, Dec. 7 2007 12:50 a.m. MST

Things were calm for months until the Stevens patriarch died of a heart attack at age 53 last May. Edward "Davie" Merino showed up at the funeral, pulling up at the cemetery in a limo with what was described as a menacingly burly chauffeur.

Merino says members of the Stevens clan attacked him and screamed, "We will make your life a living hell!" But the Stevenses claim that Merino flashed a gun and threatened to "come back and kill all of you." Both sides agree that before speeding off, Merino shouted that he wanted to make sure "the mother-(expletive) was dead."

Merino declined repeated requests for an interview through his attorney and calls to his home were not returned.

After the scrap, someone left ominous phone messages and threatened to kill Sonia Merino and the couple's children, ages 9 and 11, Edward Merino claimed in court papers.

Edward Merino filed for restraining orders against four Stevens men and two Stevens women. Over the summer, a judge granted such an order against just one person, the new Stevens patriarch, Ted Stevens.

Stevens' nephew, the only Gypsy directly involved in the feud who spoke to The Associated Press, said the Merinos concocted the allegations and are using the courts to try to drive their rivals out of Newport Beach.

"They beat themselves up and then they testify that we hired people to come to their house and beat them up," said Steve Stevens, who goes by the nickname "White Bob" to distinguish him from his swarthier cousin, "Black Bob."

Stevens, who owns two fortunetelling parlors and a deli, added: "I feel like they've made me out like a character on 'The Sopranos.' I'm a businessman. I'm a family man. That's all I am."

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