Canadian-French Conman Sentenced to 10 Years for $175M Psychic Fraud

Canadian-French Conman Sentenced to 10 Years for $175M Psychic Fraud

A Canadian-French conman, Patrice Runner, 57, has been handed a 10-year prison sentence for orchestrating a massive psychic fraud scheme that bilked over $175 million from vulnerable Americans. The scheme, described as a "psychic mass-mailing fraud," targeted millions of older individuals across North America, promising them wealth and happiness through personalized letters allegedly from renowned French psychic Maria Duval.

Runner, who holds dual citizenship with Canada and France, was convicted by a jury in June on charges including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as money laundering. Despite being found not guilty on some counts, the New York judge deemed the sentence appropriate for his crimes.

Chris Nielsen, the inspector in charge of the US Postal Inspection Service’s Philadelphia division, characterized Runner's lifestyle as "extravagant" and built on the backs of vulnerable Americans. The sentencing marks the end of Runner's fraudulent activities, which US authorities had been pursuing since 2014.

The elaborate scam involved Runner's companies sending personalized letters to recipients, urging them to seek the assistance of Maria Duval for a chance at great wealth and happiness. These letters, written in cursive, targeted elderly and vulnerable individuals, enticing them to send fees for an "astral-clairvoyant forecast." Once payment was made, recipients would receive numerous additional letters requesting more money and personal items, such as locks of hair and photos, for supposed personalized rituals and astrological services.

Despite his conviction, Runner maintained his innocence, arguing that his mail business, Infogest Direct Marketing, did not overstep any legal boundaries. He contended that dissatisfied customers would have requested refunds, suggesting that while his actions might not have been moral, they were not fraudulent.

Runner's history of fraudulent activities extends beyond the recent conviction. In 1991, a company under his name was fined for falsely advertising clairvoyant services, and in 2000, another of his companies faced penalties for misleading advertising about weight-loss products, both in Canada.

In an interview with the Walrus magazine from a New York detention center, Runner reflected on the appeal of his long-running con, attributing its success to his ability to capture the attention of millions of people who would willingly send money to unfamiliar addresses for products they knew little about.

The court heard how Runner's operation involved printing letters in Canada, transporting them by truck to Albany, New York, and then mailing them out in large batches. Over two decades, his companies sent an estimated 56 million letters, generating $175 million from nearly 1.5 million individuals across Canada and the US. Runner boasted about the most lucrative years of the scam, citing a $23 million profit in a single year between 2005 and 2010.

To evade detection, Runner utilized shell companies registered in Canada and Hong Kong, enabling him to mask his involvement in the fraudulent activities. He frequently moved residences, residing in various countries including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Spain.

Law enforcement's investigation into Runner's scam began in 2014 and culminated in the shutdown of the operation two years later. Following lengthy extradition negotiations, Runner was arrested in Ibiza in December 2020 and subsequently transported to New York.

Four other individuals connected to the mass-mailing scam have pleaded guilty, underscoring the extent of Runner's network and the collaborative nature of the fraudulent operation.

Before his trial, Runner admitted to lacking sufficient funds to afford legal representation, reflecting on his past lifestyle characterized by extravagance and a lack of caution. He acknowledged his missteps, recognizing that his assumption that the mail-order business would provide sustainable income was misguided.

In conclusion, Patrice Runner's sentencing marks the end of a lengthy investigation into a sophisticated and widespread psychic fraud scheme that preyed on vulnerable individuals across North America. Despite maintaining his innocence, Runner's conviction serves as a cautionary tale about the consequences of exploiting the trust of others for personal gain.

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