Patrice Runner convicted in decades-long, $175 million psychic scheme

Patrice Runner convicted in decades-long, $175 million psychic scheme

Over 20 years, tens of millions of Individuals acquired letters from somebody claiming to be a European psychic. The letters, written in cursive, made imprecise predictions and included units of fortunate numbers. One from 2014 promised the recipient’s life was “going to take a flip for the higher” — however that imaginative and prescient got here at a value: an preliminary $37.50 for a complete “astral-clairvoyant forecast.”

The prices, nonetheless, didn’t finish there, investigators discovered. Recipients of the letters had been constantly inspired to make extra funds, based on court docket information. As a substitute of the happiness, well being and monetary success the letters promised, prosecutors say some grew to become victims of a world scheme that ran from 1994 to 2014, defrauding them of over $175 million.

Final week, a jury returned a verdict within the trial of Patrice Runner, the Canadian and French citizen federal authorities have accused of directing the scheme all through its entirety. Runner, who was charged with 18 counts of mail fraud and wire fraud, was discovered responsible Friday of 14 of these counts. He faces a most penalty of 20 years in jail for every rely and can be sentenced at a later date, the Division of Justice introduced.

“For over 20 years, Patrice Runner managed a predatory scheme that focused older [Americans] by mailing customized letters to tens of millions of victims purporting to be from a world renown psychic,” Chris Nielsen of the Postal Inspection Service’s Philadelphia division mentioned in a information launch. “[The] verdict ought to have come as no shock to Mr. Runner.”

Runner’s attorneys didn’t reply to a request for remark from The Washington Submit.

The long-running scheme focused individuals in determined positions, investigators discovered. Some had dementia. Others had been attempting to get again on their toes after battling monetary misery. All had been promised that steerage, talismans and crystals from psychic Maria Duval would flip their lives round — one cost at a time, court docket information state.

However behind the roughly 56 million letters despatched from Canada to the US was a posh net of shell firms and a Montreal-based advertising agency with a decades-long historical past of involvement in questionable schemes, based on investigators.

Duval is an actual particular person. However after looking out her dwelling in 2018, authorities decided that she had no involvement in sending the letters. As a substitute, the return tackle was for a New York-based firm, the place staff following Runner’s directions “threw the overwhelming majority of responses from victims within the trash,” based on an indictment.

Nonetheless, her identify is now related to psychic mail fraud schemes — now dubbed by authorities as “Maria Duval scams”

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Although the scheme focused individuals in a minimum of a dozen nations, its North American department was directed by Runner, who ran Infogest Direct Advertising and marketing and tried hiding his involvement whereas dwelling in Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, France and Spain, prosecutors mentioned. Cash from the rip-off, investigators discovered, was usually transferred to abroad financial institution accounts managed by Runner.

Courtroom paperwork define how Infogest Direct Advertising and marketing profited from the letters promising luck. In keeping with investigators, the supplies had been printed in Canada and pushed by truck to Albany, N.Y. From there, they had been mailed out in batches — typically, as much as 50,000 at a time.

The letters “appeared customized, repeatedly referring to the recipient by identify,” based on an indictment. Nevertheless, regardless of the efforts to make the letters seem genuine — together with the additions of espresso stains or handwritten annotations — they had been basically mass-produced messages with little variation, prosecutors mentioned.

In keeping with court docket paperwork, the snippets of private info, together with recipients’ dates and locations of beginning, had been bought from information brokers — and used to persuade individuals of the psychic’s clairvoyance.

“You had been born beneath the signal of Taurus … Being born on Could 22, 1927 in Kansas Metropolis at 12:00,” one letter learn. “I can already see some features of your character. Like everybody, you’ve got some faults.”

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With that private hook, the letters inspired recipients to proceed making funds — and make sure monetary selections, reminiscent of investing in lottery tickets. As an illustration, among the many letters investigators compiled was one outlining how Duval and one other psychic had an identical imaginative and prescient of the recipient successful over $40,000 within the Powerball through the use of a sure set of numbers.

“All you need to do to see your life change is grasp the hand of friendship we’re holding out to you,” learn a part of the letter, which requested the recipient to ship $50 for an “Invaluable Information to a New Life.”

Aside from asking for cash, the letters additionally directed recipients to ship again private objects, reminiscent of locks of hair, palm prints and pictures — all supposedly for use by a psychic “to conduct further customized rituals and astrological companies,” based on an indictment. However when victims responded, they’d get bombarded with as many as 100 extra letters, which sought further funds and supplied different companies.

And when recipients stopped responding, the letters might flip menacing.

One lady instructed Scotland’s Sunday Mail in 1997, “After I wrote to say I didn’t have that sort of money, the letters acquired much more scary. I used to be so scared I couldn’t eat or sleep, worrying whether or not I’d be hit by extra dangerous luck.”

Although the letters carried Duval’s signature and {photograph}, the supposed psychic was for lengthy shrouded in thriller. At one level, investigators posited Duval was a determine created by the scammers — however an investigation by CNN tracked her down in France in 2016. Her household instructed the outlet that Duval had misplaced management of her identify and picture, which individuals had been utilizing for big income.

In 2016, the Justice Division introduced it had closed down the scheme working in the US and Canada by barring Infogest Direct Advertising and marketing and several other of its staff from utilizing the U.S. Postal Service to ship supplies “on behalf of any psychics, clairvoyants or astrologers.”

Since then, 4 different defendants accused of aiding within the fraud have pleaded responsible to conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Runner was seized by Spanish authorities in Ibiza in 2019 and, a 12 months later, was extradited to the US — the place he faces many years behind bars.


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