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 in a decades-long mass-mailing conspiracy that frequently preyed on the defenseless, according to the US Department of Justice, and faces up to 280 years in prison.
Between 1994 and 2014, Runner, a dual Canadian and French citizen, sent millions of letters purporting to be from acclaimed psychic Maria Duval, who promised to bring people prosperity and happiness in exchange for money.
According to the Washington Post, one 2014 email claimed the recipient’s life will “take a turn for the better,” but they would have to pay $37.50 to find out more.
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.,”
The letters appeared to be individualized, with handwritten remarks and personal information about the recipients obtained reportedly from data brokers. The letters, however, were essentially identical and mass-produced, allowing the fraudsters to send out tens of thousands of them each week.
Runner and his associates preyed on the elderly suffering from dementia or the financially disadvantaged, which they discovered by renting and swapping mailing lists with other mail scammers.
It was discovered that those who fell for the scam and gave over money were frequently the elderly with dementia or those in financial need.
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.