The Department of Justice has extradited a Canadian citizen from Spain and charged him with defrauding over one million Americans out for nearly $200m in an international psychic mail fraud scam that spanned two decades.
Patrice Runner, 54, made his initial appearance in federal court in Central Islip, New York, Tuesday having been released into US custody by the Spanish government on Monday.
Runner has been charged by the Department of Justice with 18 counts of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges stem from accusations he masterminded a decades-long physic mail fraud scheme, which, from 1994 through to November 2014, reportedly defrauded more than one million victims in the United States out of over $180 million.
Patrice Runner, 54, made his initial appearance in federal court in Central Islip, New York, Tuesday having been released into US custody from authorities in Madrid on Monday
Runner is accused of masterminding a decades-long psychic mail fraud scheme that defrauded more than one million Americans out of $180 million. Letters sent to the victims often used the names of two renown psychics (Maria Duval’s is shown above)
According to prosecutors, Runner’s alleged scheme involved sending millions of US citizens, many of whom were vulnerable, elderly or sick, letters purporting to be from two well-known French psychics, including Maria Duval.
Using the name and image of Duval, along with that of another French psychic named Patrick Guerin, the letters promised recipients that her psychic guidance and talismans could help turn their lives around.
In the letters, the listed psychic also pledged to help the recipient achieve great wealth, happiness, and overcome sickness with their assistance, in exchange for a cash payment.
‘The letters also frequently stated that a psychic had seen a personalized vision regarding the recipient of the letter, when in fact the scheme sent nearly identical letters to tens of thousands of victims each week,’ prosecutors claim.
Runner and his co-conspirators allegedly obtained the names of the vulnerable and elderly by renting and trading mailing lists with other mail fraud schemes.
When a victim would reply to one letter, Runner and his co-conspirators reportedly bombarded them with dozens of additional letters, with some victims receiving as many as 60.
Each of the additional letters reportedly also appeared to be a personalized written communication, with portions of it seemingly handwritten, and sought further payment from the victim.
Victims were directed to send payment – often ranging from $5 to $50 – to purchase various purported ‘unique and supernatural objects’, which were in fact cheap, mass produced trinkets.
Victims were also urged to submit payment to receive ‘personalized astrological services and studies’, which were never actually returned.
Runner could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the 18 counts against him, as well as millions in fines
A grand jury in the Eastern District of New York indicted Runner in October 2018, and he was arrested in Ibiza in April the following year, before being transferred to a jail in Madrid
Prosecutors say that neither Duval nor Guerin had any role in sending the letters, did not receive the responses from the victims and did not send the additional letters after victims had paid money.
Hundreds of thousands of victims were also targeted in Canada. Prosecutors say that in total, 1.4 million people fell victim to the scheme, with a sum in excess of $200 million fraudulently raked in by Runner and his co-conspirators.
‘Fraud scams have exploited the mail to victimize vulnerable Americans for over a century,’ said Inspector-in-Charge Damon Wood of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service Philadelphia Division.
‘As these crimes become global, so do Postal Inspectors. If you are exploiting Americans, we are coming for you, no matter where you are in the world.’
Two of Runner’s co-conspirators, Canadian citizens Maria Thanos and Philip Lett, pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York in June 2018 to conspiracy to commit mail fraud.
Runner allegedly used a series of shell companies to conceal his involvement in the scheme while living in multiple foreign countries, including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Spain.
Documents say money yielded from the scheme was transferred to bank accounts controlled by Runner and others in places like Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
A grand jury in the Eastern District of New York indicted Runner in October 2018, and he was arrested in Ibiza in April the following year, before being transferred to a jail in Madrid.
Runner’s alleged scheme involved sending millions of US consumers, many of whom were vulnerable, elderly or sick, letters purporting to be from two well-known French psychics, including Maria Duval (above)
It is unclear whether Runner has entered a plea. His attorney told CNN last year that Runner is ‘contesting the validity of any criminal accusation that might be held against him by any authority whatsoever.’
Runner could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the 18 counts against him, as well as millions in fines.
Thanos and Lett each face up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines. They have not yet been sentenced.
Prosecutors say that ‘in reality’, neither Duval (above) nor Guerin psychics had no role in sending the letters, did not receive the responses from the victims and did not send the additional letters after victims had paid money
Last year, investigators with the United States Postal Inspection Service said they had been able to return more than $200,000 worth of cash and money order payments sent in by nearly 6,000 victims.
The funds in question had yet to be processed by a business involved with the scheme and were still in their envelopes when discovered by investigators, CNN reported.
Along with pending checks and credit payments that were stopped, the investigation saved victims about $827,000.
Most victims haven’t received any money back, with officials saying it will be incredibly unlikely most ever will, due to issues of fairness and difficulty in determining who is owed the funds.
‘The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch is committed to investigating and prosecuting transnational criminal schemes that target elderly and vulnerable Americans,’ Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in a news release.
‘As this case demonstrates, we will work with our law enforcement partners in the United States and around the world to bring to justice criminals who target Americans through mail fraud and other schemes. We thank the Spanish National Police for their efforts to apprehend Runner and ensure that he sees justice in U.S. courts.’