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10 years in U.S. prison for Canadian man who stole millions with fake psychic fraud

Tarot cards. (Enzo Abramo/ Tarot cards. (Enzo Abramo/

A former Montreal resident was sentenced earlier this week to 10 years in a United States federal prison for a multi-decade fraud that manipulated more than one million Americans into sending money to fake psychics.

Patrice Runner, 57, was convicted of 14 charges, including mail fraud and wire fraud, in June 2023 after a trial in a New York Federal Court.

Runner, a Canadian and French citizen, was found to have stolen more than $175 million from 1.3 million people in the U.S. between 1994 and 2014 by sending letters promising psychics would help them achieve wealth and happiness in exchange for a fee, the U.S. Justice Department said in a news release Monday.

In their sentencing recommendation, prosecutors said that on average Runner "defrauded more than 7,000 victims per week. Seven thousand victims would be notable in any case -- but for Runner, that was only seven days' work out of more than 20 years."

"He did nothing else; he possesses no other skills. Runner was a full-time fraudster for decades."

Runner used a Montreal company to send the letters to people across the U.S. and Canada. Each one claimed to be a personal communication from "so-called 'psychics' Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin," according to the Justice Department. However, no purported psychics were involved in the operation and the personalized letters were nearly identical forms sent to people whose names were obtained from mailing lists created by other con artists.

People who sent money would receive dozens of additional letters offering to sell them more services and items with supposed magical powers.

Prosecutors had sought a 30-year sentence for Runner, a former Montrealer, who directed the scheme from a number of countries before he was arrested in Spain, from where he was extradited to the U.S. in 2020.

"Runner took total advantage of his victims and their desperation, millions of times. Each of those more than six million victim payments represents a person reaching out for help that never came and that Runner never even tried to provide. Runner promised his victims easy, magical answers in exchange for a fee, and provided nothing in return except a cheap, fake trinket," prosecutors wrote.

Runner's defence lawyer had sought a five-year sentence, arguing that many of his client's "customers" didn't feel that they had been ripped off and that of those who did the vast majority lost no more than $40.

"The government has portrayed Patrice Runner as greedy, cynical, and heartless. He is none of those things," James Darrow, an assistant federal defender, wrote in his sentencing recommendation.

"To be sure, the jury has determined that much of his astrological work was fraudulent. But it also determined that much was not. Hundreds of thousands of customers, hopeful for magic, came to Patrice Runner for astrological goods and service. Whatever one might say about Mr. Runner's motivations, it is undisputed that he spent years trying to help them believe they were getting exactly what they wanted," Darrow wrote.

The defence lawyer's submission says that Runner, who grew up in an abusive home, used the money to give his children the stability and safety that he never had. Darrow also asks for leniency because of the conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Runner has been held for more than three years. Darrow said Runner has become ill, deprived of medical care, held in near solitary confinement and denied the ability to meaningfully participate in his own defence.

Four of Runner's co-conspirators -- two Canadians and two Americans -- pleaded guilty in 2018, though only one has been sentenced. Sherry Gore, 73, who prosecutors said managed a process to extract additional money from victims, received two years probation and a $1,000 fine in 2018.

Four people who ran PacNet Services, a British Columbia-based payment processing company used by Runner, and allegedly by other scammers, have been indicted in the state of Nevada by U.S. federal prosecutors, who are seeking their extradition from Canada.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2024. Top Stories

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