Psychic mass-mailing fraud scheme: US court jails Canadian man for duping 1.3m Americans of $175m

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Patrice Runner

A 57-year-old Canadian man, Patrice Runner, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in the United States for perpetrating a massive psychic mass-mailing fraud scheme that stole more than $175 million from more than 1.3 million victims in the United States.

The Canadian and French citizen was sentenced in the Eastern District of New York on Monday.

Following a two-week trial, a federal jury convicted Runner in June 2023 of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and multiple counts of mail fraud and wire fraud.

In a Monday statement, the US Justice Department said Runner operated a mass-mailing fraud scheme from 1994 through November 2014.

“As part of the scheme, Runner sent letters to millions of U.S. consumers, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable. The letters falsely purported to be individualized, personal communications from well-known so-called “psychics” Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin and promised that the recipient had the opportunity to achieve great wealth and happiness with the assistance of the “psychics” in exchange for payment of a fee. Once a victim made a single payment in response to one of the letters, the victim was bombarded with dozens of additional letters, all purporting to be personalized communications from the “psychics” and offering additional services and items for a fee.

“Although the scheme’s letters frequently stated that a “psychic” had seen a personalized vision regarding the recipient of the letter, in fact, the scheme sent nearly identical form letters to tens of thousands of victims each week. Runner and his co-conspirators obtained the names of elderly and vulnerable victims by renting and trading mailing lists with other mail fraud schemes.

“In reality, Duval and Guerin had no role in sending the letters, did not receive responses from the victims, and did not send the additional letters after victims paid money.

“In fact, no “psychics” played any role in Runner’s operation. Some victims made dozens of payments in response to the fraudulent letters, losing thousands of dollars,” the statement read in part.

The statement said Runner directed the scheme for the entirety of its twenty-year operation, directing co-conspirators, who ran the day-to-day operations of the scheme through a Canadian company.

“Runner used a series of shell companies registered in Canada and Hong Kong to hide his involvement in the scheme while living in multiple foreign countries, including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Spain.

“Spanish authorities extradited Runner to the United States to face federal charges in December 2020,” the US Justice Department further said.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said, “This case demonstrates that the Justice Department’s Consumer Protection Branch and its partners in the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) are committed to investigating and prosecuting transnational fraud schemes targeting Americans consumers.”

“The global nature of this scheme meant that we had to rely on law enforcement from around the globe to provide evidence of criminality. We want to thank officials from France, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Canada, and in particular the Canadian Competition Bureau, for providing assistance in securing evidence in this matter, as well as Spain for arresting and extraditing Runner, ensuring that justice could be done.”

The statement quoted Chris Nielsen, Inspector in Charge of the Philadelphia Division of the the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), as saying, “Patrice Runner’s extravagant lifestyle, born on the backs of millions of older and vulnerable Americans, has come to an end.”

“The conviction and federal sentencing of Patrice Runner is the appropriate punishment for someone who routinely preyed on vulnerable and elderly Americans. Postal Inspectors will continue to work tirelessly to ensure you can trust that the US Mail is free of these types of predatory schemes.”

Four other co-conspirators previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with this mass-mailing fraud scheme: Maria Thanos, 60, of Montreal, Canada; Philip Lett, 53, of Montreal; Sherry Gore, 73, of Indiana, and Daniel Arnold, 62, of Connecticut.

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