Man Behind Decadeslong 'Psychic' Scam Learns His Fate

Patrice Runner was behind mailing of 56M letters promising personal fortunes, for a fee
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 21, 2023 2:39 PM CDT
Updated Apr 16, 2024 3:00 AM CDT
Victims Coughed Up $175M in Response to 'Psychic' Letters
   (Getty Images/M-A-U)
UPDATE Apr 16, 2024 3:00 AM CDT

The Canadian man who defrauded victims of $175 million via "a massive psychic mass-mailing fraud scheme" that spanned two decades was on Monday sentenced to 10 years behind bars, the Guardian reports. Patrice Runner, 57, was convicted in June after being extradited to the US to face charges. "Patrice Runner's extravagant lifestyle, born on the backs of millions of older and vulnerable Americans, has come to an end," the inspector in charge of the US Postal Inspection Service's Philadelphia division said in a statement after the sentencing. (Runner insists it was all legal.)

Jun 21, 2023 2:39 PM CDT

More than 1 million Americans were fooled into paying a so-called psychic who reached out with vague predictions about coming fortunes, per the Daily Voice. But the person behind the signature and photograph of Maria Duval and other psychics was actually a Canadian man who defrauded his victims of $175 million over 20 years. A jury in New York convicted 57-year-old Patrice Runner, a citizen of Canada and France, of 14 counts of mail and wire fraud on Friday, the Justice Department announced. Authorities say he masterminded a scheme that sent 56 million letters to people, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, promising they could achieve wealth and happiness in exchange for an initial $37.50 fee, per the Washington Post. That was just the beginning.

The letters, sent between 1994 and 2014, hooked recipients by offering up their birthdays, places of birth, and other personal information "purchased from data brokers," per the Post. They also teased psychic visions, including large lottery wins. Recipients were asked to send back money and personal items, like photos and locks of hair, so a psychic could perform personalized services, according to an indictment. Most responses were thrown out, but they told the scammers who'd been duped. Up to 100 additional letters might follow with more requests for money, per the Post. "And when recipients stopped responding, the letters could turn menacing." One victim said she "couldn't eat or sleep" for fear that she would suffer the promised bad luck.

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Duval is a real person who worked as a psychic in the south of France. But authorities found she was not involved. Runner had directed the North American branch of the scheme through a Montreal-based company, Infogest Direct Marketing, but hidden his involvement in a series of shell companies while living abroad, mostly in Europe. He was extradited from Spain to the US in late 2020, per the Montreal Gazette. Convicted of eight counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, he now faces up to 20 years in prison on each count. Two people in Montreal and two others in the US previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with the scheme. (More mail fraud stories.)

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