A fake psychic who ran a scheme targeting 56 million elderly Americans and defrauding them out of $175 million has been sentenced to up to 280 years in federal prison.
Patrice Runner, 57, ran an international mail fraud scam that spanned two decades and the letters would claim to be from one of two well-known French psychics who could help turn the lives of recipients around for payment.
He bought victims’ dates and places of birth from data brokers to convince vulnerable people of psychic abilities, and then he would encourage them to pay more.
The letters will include vague prophecies and ask recipients to send back personal items such as locks of hair for an ‘extra personalized ritual’. A person was promised that their life was going to ‘take a turn for the better’ in 2014 and paid $37.50 for an ‘astral-clairvoyant forecast’.
He was extradited from Spain to the United States in December 2020, and on June 16 a jury convicted him of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, eight counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Patrice Runner, 57, was extradited from Spain to the United States in December 2020 and a jury convicted him on June 16 of running a mass-mailing fraud scheme.
The runner’s scheme targeted 56 million older Americans including letters from two well-known French psychologists, including Maria Duval (above).
He bought victims’ dates and places of birth from data brokers to convince them of their psychic abilities and encourage them to pay more.
Runner, a Canadian and French national, will remain in prison pending sentencing at a later date and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years on each count.
Chris Nielsen of the Postal Inspection Service’s Philadelphia Division said: ‘For more than 20 years, Patrice Runner operated a predatory scheme that targeted the elderly. [Americans] By sending personalized letters to millions of people who can be world-renowned psychics.
‘[The] The verdict should have come as no surprise to Mr Runner.’
The fraud scheme, which began in 1994 and ran until November 2014, preyed on the elderly and desperate individuals trying to get back on their feet financially.
Using Maria Duval’s name and photo along with another French psychic named Patrick Guerin, the letters promised recipients that her psychic guidance and charms could help them turn their lives around.
In the letters, the enlisted psychic also promises to help the recipient with great wealth, happiness and overcome illness with their help in return for cash payments.
‘The letters often stated that a psychic had seen a personal vision of the recipient of the letter, when in fact the scheme sent nearly identical letters to hundreds of thousands of victims each week,’ prosecutors claimed.
Runner and his co-conspirators acquired the names of the vulnerable and elderly by renting and trading mailing lists along with other mail fraud schemes.
When a victim answered a letter, Runner and his co-conspirators bombarded them with dozens of additional letters, with some victims receiving as many as 100.
Each of the additional letters also appeared to be a personalized written communication, parts of which were apparently handwritten, and sought further payment from the victim.
Victims were instructed to send payments – often ranging from $5 to $50 – to purchase various supposedly ‘unique and supernatural objects’, which were actually cheap, mass-produced trinkets.
They were also asked to deposit money to receive ‘personal astrological services and studies’, which were never actually returned.
In the letters, the enlisted psychic also promises to help the recipient achieve great wealth, happiness and overcome illness with their help in exchange for cash payments.
Runner will remain in prison pending sentencing at a later date and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the 14 counts he was convicted of.
Prosecutors say neither Duval nor Guerin had a role in sending the letters, did not receive a response from the victims and did not send additional letters after the victims paid.
The letters sent in response were addressed to a New York-based agency where staff ‘trashed most of the responses from victims,’ a complaint said.
Runner used multiple shell companies to conceal his involvement in the scheme while living in multiple foreign countries, including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Spain.
According to court documents, Infogest profited from the direct marketing letters.
They were printed in Canada and transported to Albany, New York using a truck before being mailed in large batches of up to 50,000 at a time.
The complaint said the letters ‘were displayed in private, repeatedly mentioning the name of the recipient’.
Prosecutors said coffee stains and handwritten annotations were added to make the letters appear real, but they were mass-produced messages with little variation.
Personal information, including date and place of birth, was purchased from data brokers.
One letter read: ‘You were born under the sign of Taurus … born on May 22, 1927 in Kansas City at 12:00.
‘I can already see some aspects of your personality. You have faults like everyone else.’
Victims were also encouraged to invest in lottery tickets as the psychic won them more than $40,000 in Powerball using a certain set of numbers.
‘All you have to do to change your life is to take the hand of friendship we are holding you,’ another letter read. It asks the recipient to send $50 for an ‘invaluable guide to a new life’.
The documents say proceeds from the scheme were transferred to bank accounts controlled by Runner and others in places like Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Four people – Maria Thanos, 59, of Montreal, Canada, Phillip Lett, 52, of Montreal, Canada; Sherry Gore, 72, of Indiana, and Daniel Arnold, 61, of Connecticut — previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with the scheme.
A grand jury in the Eastern District of New York indicted the runner in October 2018 and he was arrested in Ibiza the following April before being transferred to a prison in Madrid.
In 2019, investigators with the United States Postal Inspection Service said they were able to recover more than $200,000 worth of cash and money order payments sent to nearly 6,000 victims.
In addition to stopping pending check and credit payments, the investigation saved victims nearly $827,000.
Most victims have not received any money back, and officials say that would be incredibly unlikely.
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