Canadian con artist sentenced to 10 years for $175M psychic mail fraud in U.S.

A United States Postal Service logo is displayed on a U.S. Post Office mailbox on April 1, 2024 in Montclair, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Across 20 years, Canadian Patrice Runner conned over 1.3 million Americans out of more than US$175 million (more than C$241 million) by posing as a mail-in psychic — but his phony premonitions never anticipated a 10-year prison sentence in the U.S.

Runner, who previously lived in Montreal, was handed his 10-year sentence in the Eastern District of New York on Monday, according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

The 57-year-old was convicted in June 2023. He was found guilty on 14 charges including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, eight counts of mail fraud, four counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Runner, who also possesses French citizenship, ran his psychic mail scheme alongside other co-conspirators from 1994 through November 2014. He sent letters to millions of Americans while pretending to be either Maria Duval or Patrick Guerin, both of whom are well-known “psychics.” (Duval and Guerin were not involved in sending the letters, the DOJ claimed.)

Story continues below advertisement

Runner’s fraudulent mail promised Americans an opportunity to “achieve great wealth and happiness with the psychic’s assistance, in exchange for payment of a fee.” Many of the letters claimed the psychic had seen a vision specifically about the recipient.

The DOJ said Runner’s scheme preyed specifically on victims who were “elderly and vulnerable.”

Nearly identical letters were sent to tens of thousands of victims each week.

Once Runner had a victim who took the bait, he and his co-conspirators would inundate them with dozens more letters, again claiming to offer personalized services or products for further payment.

“Some victims made dozens of payments in response to the fraudulent letters, losing thousands of dollars,” the DOJ wrote.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Then, after 20 years of leading the mail fraud operation, Runner was arrested in Ibiza in 2020.

He was extradited to the U.S. from Spain that same year.

In a 2023 interview with The Walrus, Runner maintained he’d never done anything illegal.

“Maybe it’s not moral, maybe it’s bulls—t,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean it’s fraud.”

Speaking from a New York detention centre, Runner said the “most lucrative years” for his scheme were between 2005 and 2010. He claimed to have once made US$23 million (over C$31 million) in a single year.

Story continues below advertisement

“I used to live like a rock star,” Runner said. “I was not cautious enough. I thought the mail-order business would be forever.”

“Patrice Runner’s extravagant lifestyle, born on the backs of millions of older and vulnerable Americans, has come to an end,” said Chris Nielsen of the USPIS Philadelphia Division. “The conviction and federal sentencing of Patrice Runner is the appropriate punishment for someone who routinely preyed on vulnerable and elderly Americans.”

“Postal Inspectors will continue to work tirelessly to ensure you can trust that the US Mail is free of these types of predatory schemes,” Nielsen promised.

Runner’s company ran its day-to-day direct-mail operations out of Montreal.

He and his co-conspirators gathered the names of elderly and vulnerable victims through a criminal circle renting and trading in mailing lists for the purpose of fraud.

To mask his scheme, the DOJ said Runner used a series of shell companies registered in Canada and Hong Kong.

While hiding from the law, Runner lived in countries including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and Spain.

Four of his co-conspirators have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud in connection to the scheme. Among them are Maria Thanos and Philip Lett, both from Montreal.

Story continues below advertisement

Before his arrest, Runner was found guilty and fined for orchestrating two other scams. One saw him falsely advertise a clairvoyant who could predict winning lottery numbers, and in another, Runner hocked phony weight loss products.

How to protect yourself from mail fraud

Canadians should be wary of any fraudulent lottery, prize notifications and sweepstakes scams that may arrive in the mail (or by phone).

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, a government body that seeks to strengthen a fair marketplace, encourages citizens to deal with only registered companies or charities.

You should never trust unsolicited offers requiring your credit card number or banking information, or requests for you to call a 1-900 number.

Concerned Canadians can contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office or the Better Business Bureau to find out if the business is registered and if there have been any complaints against the company.

Click to play video: 'Cybercrime on the rise'
Cybercrime on the rise

Sponsored content