16 April 2024

Canadian Man Sentenced to 10 Years for $175M Psychic Mass-Mailing Fraud Scheme

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By Jon Donnis

Scheme Defrauded Over 1.3 Million Victims in the United States

In a significant legal development, a Canadian man, Patrice Runner, 57, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for orchestrating a massive psychic mass-mailing fraud scheme that pilfered over $175 million from more than 1.3 million victims in the United States. The sentencing, which took place Monday, April 15th, 2024 in the Eastern District of New York, follows a two-week trial that ended with Runner's conviction in June 2023.

Runner, a Canadian and French citizen, was found guilty of several charges, including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, as well as multiple counts of mail fraud and wire fraud. The scheme, operational from 1994 to November 2014, preyed on vulnerable individuals, particularly the elderly, through a barrage of personalized letters purportedly from well-known "psychics" Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin. These letters promised recipients wealth and happiness in exchange for a fee.

Despite the personalized nature of the letters, investigations revealed that they were essentially identical form letters sent en masse to tens of thousands of victims weekly. Runner, along with his accomplices, obtained names of susceptible victims by trading mailing lists with other fraudulent schemes. Contrary to the promises made in the letters, neither Duval nor Guerin were involved in sending them, nor did they receive responses or send additional letters after victims made payments.

Runner managed the entire operation throughout its two-decade span, directing his co-conspirators who operated the scheme through a Canadian company. To conceal his involvement, Runner utilized a network of shell companies registered in Canada and Hong Kong while residing in various foreign countries.

Spanish authorities facilitated Runner's extradition to the United States in December 2020, leading to his federal charges and subsequent conviction.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton emphasized the collaborative effort involved in bringing Runner to justice, acknowledging the assistance provided by various international agencies and the Canadian Competition Bureau.

Inspector in Charge Chris Nielsen of the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Philadelphia Division condemned Runner's actions, highlighting the exploitation of vulnerable Americans and affirming the commitment of Postal Inspectors to combat such predatory schemes.

Four other co-conspirators, Maria Thanos, Philip Lett, Sherry Gore, and Daniel Arnold, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection with the scheme.

The investigation was led by USPIS, with prosecution handled by the Civil Division's Consumer Protection Branch. The Justice Department's Office of International Affairs played a crucial role in securing Runner's extradition.

The US Department of Justice issued a warning to the public, urging vigilance against fraudulent schemes, particularly those involving psychic, lottery, prize notification, and sweepstakes scams. Individuals who suspect elder fraud are encouraged to contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline for assistance and support.

For more information and resources on combating elder fraud, individuals are directed to visit the Justice Department's Elder Justice Initiative webpage and the Consumer Protection Branch's enforcement efforts page.

Elder fraud complaints may be filed with the FTC at www.reportfraud.ftc.gov or at 877-FTC-HELP. (United States Only)

The sentencing of Patrice Runner marks a significant milestone in the fight against transnational fraud, underscoring the commitment of law enforcement agencies to safeguarding vulnerable individuals from financial exploitation.

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