Over two decades, millions of Americans received letters from a supposed European psychic. The letters, written in cursive, made vague predictions and included sets of lucky numbers. One from 2014 promised the recipient’s life was “going to take a turn for the better.” That vision came at a cost: an initial $37.50 for a comprehensive “astral-clairvoyant forecast.” The costs didn’t end there, investigators found. Recipients of the letters were continuously encouraged to make more payments. Instead of the happiness, health and financial success the letters promised, prosecutors say some became victims of an international scheme that ran from 1994 to 2014, defrauding them of over $175 million. Last week, a jury returned a verdict in the trial of Patrice Runner, the Canadian and French citizen federal authorities have accused of directing the scheme. Runner, who was charged with 18 counts of mail fraud and wire fraud, was found guilty Friday of 14 of those counts. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count.
“For over 20 years, Patrice Runner managed a predatory scheme that targeted older [Americans] by mailing personalized letters to millions of victims purporting to be from a world renowned psychic,” said Chris Nielsen of the Postal Inspection Service. “[The] verdict should have come as no surprise to Runner.” The long-running scheme targeted people in desperate positions. Some had dementia. Others were trying to get back on their feet after struggling with financial distress. All were promised that guidance, talismans and crystals from psychic Maria Duval would turn their lives around — one payment at a time. Behind the 56 million letters sent from Canada to the U.S. was a complex web of shell companies and a Montreal-based marketing firm with a decades-long history of involvement in questionable schemes. Though the scheme targeted people in at least a dozen countries, its North American branch was directed by Runner, who ran Infogest Direct Marketing and tried hiding his involvement while living in Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, France and Spain.