A Canadian man behind a fake psychic scheme that defrauded millions of Americans will be seeing prison bars in his future.
Patrice Runner, 57, was found guilty on Friday, June 16 of stealing more than $175 million from victims through a decades-long mass-mailing ring that often preyed on the vulnerable and faces up to 280 years in prison, the US Department of Justice said.
Runner, a Canadian and French dual-citizen, sent millions of letters pretending to be from famous psychic Maria Duval who promised to deliver them fortune and happiness in exchange for money between 1994 and 2014.
One correspondence from 2014 promised the recipient’s life “was going to take a turn for the better” but to find out more, they must pay $37.50, according to the Washington Post.
Another mail read: “All you have to do to see your life change is grasp the hand of friendship we are holding out to you,” — but that friendship started at $50.,”
Canadian man faces up to 280 years in prison for defrauding elderly Americans in $175M scheme
The letters appeared to be personalized with handwritten annotations and personal details about the receivers — allegedly purchased from data brokers. However, the letters were mostly identical and mass-produced so that the fraudsters could send out tens of thousands of them each week. .
Runner and his co-conspirators preyed on the elderly suffering from dementia or people financially struggling who they found by renting and trading mailing lists with other mail fraudsters.
It was gathered that those who fell for the scam and handed over money were often the elderly with dementia or people financially struggling.
Once they paid the first fee, they were then bombarded with hundreds more “personalized” letters asking for money to cover additional services and guidance from Duval. Some victims lost thousands of dollars through the scheme, according to the DOJ.
While Duval is a real person, she was not involved in the fraud, investigators found.
None of the correspondences were sent or received by real people but were instead managed by money-hungry conmen posing as a Montreal-based company, Infogest Direct Marketing, at Runner’s direction.
Runner acted as the ring leader for the entirety of the scheme’s 20-year history and advised those who ran the day-to-day operations, the Post reported.
The report added that he used dozens of shell companies to try to cover his tracks and lived all over the world including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Spain to hide his involvement.
He was extradited from Spain to the US in December 2020 on a 18-count indictment. A federal jury in the Eastern District of New York found him guilty of 14 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and related crimes Friday. Runner faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for each count — totaling 280 years altogether.
“For over 20 years, Patrice Runner managed a predatory scheme that targeted older Americans by mailing personalized letters to millions of victims purporting to be from a world renown psychic. [The] verdict should have come as no surprise to Mr. Runner,” said Inspector in Charge Chris Nielsen of the Postal Inspection Service’s Philadelphia Division.