A Canadian citizen accused of operating a decades-long psychic mail fraud scheme was extradited to the United States and made his initial appearance today in federal court in Central Islip, New York, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced.
On Oct. 25, 2018, a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York indicted Patrice Runner, 54, on charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Runner was arrested in Ibiza, Spain, by officers of the Spanish National Police in December 2018, based on the U.S. indictment. Following extradition proceedings, the Spanish government released Runner to the custody of U.S. Postal Inspectors on Dec. 21, 2020.
“The Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch is committed to investigating and prosecuting transnational criminal schemes that target elderly and vulnerable Americans,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “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.”
According to the charges, from 1994 through November 2014, Runner’s mail fraud scheme defrauded over one million victims in the United States of over $180 million. The scheme allegedly involved sending millions of U.S. consumers, many elderly and vulnerable, letters purporting to be from two well-known French psychics, promising that the recipient had the opportunity to achieve great wealth and happiness with the psychic’s assistance in exchange for payment of a fee. 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.
Runner and his co-conspirators obtained the names of elderly and vulnerable victims by renting and trading mailing lists with other mail fraud schemes. When a victim responded to one letter, Runner and his co-conspirators sent dozens of additional letters to the victim. Each of these additional letters also appeared to be a personalized letter from a psychic and requested additional money from the victim. In reality, the psychics had no role in sending the letters, did not receive responses from the victims, and did not send the additional letters after victims paid money.
“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 used a series of shell companies to hide his involvement in the scheme while living in multiple foreign countries, including Switzerland, France, the Netherlands, Costa Rica, and Spain.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Director John W. Burke and Trial Attorney Ann Entwistle of the Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Branch with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided critical assistance in securing Runner’s extradition. The Spanish National Police also provided assistance in securing Runner’s arrest.
An indictment is a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal law and is not evidence of guilt. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Since President Trump signed the bipartisan Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act (EAPPA) into law, the Department of Justice has participated in hundreds of enforcement actions in criminal and civil cases that targeted or disproportionately affected seniors. In January 2020, the department designated “Preventing and Disrupting Transnational Elder Fraud” as an Agency Priority Goal, one of its top four priorities. Later, in March 2020, the department announced the largest elder fraud enforcement action in American history, charging more than 400 defendants in a nationwide elder fraud sweep. The department has likewise conducted hundreds of trainings and outreach sessions across the country since the passage of the Act.
The department’s extensive and broad-based efforts to combat elder fraud seek to halt the billions of dollars seniors lose to fraud schemes, including those perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations. The best method for prevention, however, is by sharing information about the various types of elder fraud schemes with relatives, friends, neighbors, and other seniors who can use that information to protect themselves.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This U.S. Department of Justice hotline, managed by the Office for Victims of Crime, is staffed by experienced professionals who provide personalized support to callers by assessing the needs of the victim, and identifying relevant next steps. Case managers will identify appropriate reporting agencies, provide information to callers to assist them in reporting, connect callers directly with appropriate agencies, and provide resources and referrals, on a case-by-case basis. Reporting is the first step. Reporting can help authorities identify those who commit fraud and reporting certain financial losses due to fraud as soon as possible can increase the likelihood of recovering losses. The hotline is staffed seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. eastern time. English, Spanish and other languages are available.
For more information about the Consumer Protection Branch, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch.
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