“Living a Lie: How Patrice Runner Played the Hero While Swindling $175 Million from the Unsuspecting”

In a world increasingly saturated with promises of quick fixes and miraculous remedies, a dark underbelly thrives. It’s a world where characters like Patrice Runner, posing as helpers and heroes, prey on the most defenceless.

These con artists, who specialize in manipulation and deception, target the elderly, the timid, and those in desperate situations. They promise prosperity, health, and happiness but provide only illusions, plunging their victims into financial and emotional disaster.

This article digs into the terrifying story of Patrice Runner, a so-called psychic who masterminded one of the most heinous frauds of the last two decades, defrauding over $175 million from those least able to bear the loss.

As we uncover his deceptive tactics and the catastrophic effects on his victims, we get insight into a burning question: how do these modern-day villains credibly depict themselves as beacons of hope while orchestrating such profound betrayal?

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

“Did ‘psychic’ Maria Duval make a deal with the devil?”

I had a question for you:

    1. Do you believe in astrology?
    2. Are you a horoscope reader?
    3. Do you believe psychics exist?
    4. Do you believe that if you really want something, you can only have it?

Let me tell you something first: those of you who believe you can, you are not alone.

Everyone in life seeks a quick fix when confronted with difficult or dreary circumstances, when they are struggling in their relationships or employment, when they want more money or happiness, etc.

Nonetheless, nothing in life is really that simple.

This is the story of Maria Duval and Patric Runner, the world’s most notorious con artist.

You couldn’t have missed news like this if you’ve been following the media recently:

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

‘Psychic’ conman jailed for swindling 1.3m Americans“

„Conman Patrice Runner, 57, is jailed for 10 years after swindling more than $175million from vulnerable victims claiming he was a psychic and promising them wealth and happiness if they sent him cash in the mail during two-decade scam.“

But first, we’ll go in order and biggest question of all:

Who is Maria Duvall?

In 1977, the spouse of a nearby dentist disappeared from Saint Tropez, a city on the French Riviera. Helicopters, police, and groups of people all searched the coast, but in vain.

After hearing about the case in the press, Maria Duvall, an amateur psychic at the time, offered to help. She asked for a recent photo of the missing woman, a map of the area, and her birth date.

After superimposing the image on the map, she let the pendulum swing back and forth until it passed over a specific location.

When the region was searched, the missing woman was found exactly where Duval predicted.

Mary’s reputation profited from this story both in Europe and overseas.

From Italy to Brazil, tabloids raved about her clairvoyant abilities, assisting in the search for up to nineteen missing people, forecasting election results, and profiting handsomely from her stock market predictions.

Rumour had it that companies and politicians were waiting in line to learn more about their fate.

According to rumours, she also found the misplaced dog of French actress Brigitte Bardot.

However, the actress’s assistants rejected the story’s truth, which was never verified.

But, as it turned out, Maria benefited from all these stories—both good and negative.

There were no social media platforms back then, and news was spread through newspaper ads.

Who is Patrice Runner?!

Particle Runner was about eleven years old while he was on the other side of the ocean in the late 1970s.

When he moved with his mother, he was exposed to the family’s financial problems.

His father had moved out a few years ago and was paying alimony on a regular basis. Looking at his mother at the time, Runner’s only desire was to “get rich” and avoid suffering as much as she did.

When Runner was a young man, he was lured in by a variety of advertisements in newspapers and magazines.

He was captivated to advertising at the time due of its emotional intensity, limited word choice, and simple language.

A few advertisements showcased brand-new watches and other equipment, while others sold services or guidelines for improving memory, decreasing weight, and increasing reading speed.

Others sold promises of tremendous wealth or a bright future, which were less material but still quite appealing.

Runner was particularly intrigued to the headline, “Most people are too busy making a living to make any money.”

At the age of 19, Runner spent $80 to start his first mail order business, selling how-to books and weight loss booklets on a variety of topics.

Runner was captivated by the power of intriguing copywriting, which enabled him to parlay his youthful curiosity into a multimillion-dollar business and profession.

At the age of nineteen, Runner launched his first mail-order business, selling weight loss booklets and how-to books on a variety of topics for $80.

He had dropped out of the University of Ottawa to study copywriting a few years before and started his own mail-order business in Montreal, selling sunglasses and cameras.

Runner and Duvall Co

Runner claimed to have first heard of Maria Duvall in the early 1990s. In June 1994, Runner, who also holds French citizenship, travelled to Europe with his then-girlfriend with the intention of seeing Duvall and completing a North American license agreement.

He claims to have found her number on the white pages of a phone booth.

Duval welcomed the pair to her property in the tranquil village of Calas, which made her happy.

Runner’s then-girlfriend recalls that during their psychic reading, Duvall divulged details about the couple’s life that the woman could not have known, such as the knowledge that Runner had lost her father when she was six years old.

Runner maintains that by the end of the year, he and Duvall had negotiated an agreement permitting him to utilize her image in direct mail ads throughout North America.

He ran print advertisements for her psychic skills across the United States and Canada through the company that subsequently became Infogest Direct Marketing.

He claimed to have paid Duvall royalties totaling several hundred thousand dollars each year, or approximately 5% of sales. When he was able to create the letter on his own, the money started to come in.

The firm began – Infogest Direct Marketing

Runner used to say, “You can get someone’s attention by writing, and eventually, after a few minutes, the person sends a check, to get a product, to an address, from a company they’ve never heard of.”

He benefited from the 1990s spike in popularity and widespread commercialization of psychic services in North America.

There were TV shows, print media reports, and commercials.

However, Maria Duvall’s letters were a crucial predecessor of what evolved into a psychic services industry worth more than two billion dollars, primarily in the United States.

The runner’s efforts took off.

Infogest Direct Marketing began sending letters to people’s mailboxes alongside advertisements, blending Runner’s original writing with material modified from colleagues in Europe.

They all had the same format: typewritten letters or handwritten photocopies apparently written by Maria Duvall, demanding cash for lottery numbers, astrological readings, or fortune-telling.

Certain letters urged recipients to purchase alleged magical things, while others asked them to send personal documents or objects (such as family photos, fingerprints, or hair strands) in green envelopes, promising that the psychic would use them for unique rituals.

“Once this envelope is sealed, ONLY I can open it,” read one letter with Duvall’s photocopied signature on it.

Respondents occasionally received items or crystals in the mail. Sometimes they obtained lottery or fate numbers.

However, they began to receive fresh letters asking more money, numbering over a hundred in a few of months. From 1994 to 2014, about 1.5 million clients in the United States and Canada contributed more than $175 million to Runner’s business.

“If you have a special bottle of bubbly you’ve been saving to celebrate the great news, now is the time to open it,” said one nine-page letter his company sent to thousands of clients. The message promised “tremendous changes and improvements in your life” in “exactly 27 days”.

Recipients were encouraged to RSVP and send a $50 check or money order in exchange for a “mysterious talisman with the power to attract luck and money,” as well as a “Guide to My New Life” containing winning lottery numbers.

Many of people who responded to Maria Duvall’s advertisements and letters in North America and Europe shared a common profile: they were mostly older and, at times, financially disadvantaged.

They believed in astrology, psychics, and fortune telling, and their goals included change, salvation, and money.

Among the stories are:

In December 1998, a seventeen-year-old girl named Claire Ellis drowned in an English river. A note from Maria Duval was found in her pocket.

Ellis’ mother told the newspaper that in the weeks leading up to her murder, her daughter corresponded with Duvall, from whom she also purchased charms and pendants.

Her mother noted that Ellis’ behavior had become unpredictable, which she blamed to her daughter’s interaction with Duvall. “These things just shouldn’t be allowed,” the mother told journalists. “We received letters from this woman months after Claire died”.

By the early 2000s, many people around the world were talking about how they felt tricked by Duvall’s letter. Social media users formed several groups to debate this problem.

Fraud Complaints

In October 2004, Windsor, Ontario police issued a notification stating that “mail fraud complaints operated by ‘Maria Duvall’ have been received by numerous Canadian law enforcement agencies.”

Over the years, investigative journalists and law enforcement agencies from around the world have attempted to locate Duvall. There were allegations that she was a fraud, a parody designed to trick people.

Runner and his family traveled throughout that time, living in France, Switzerland, Spain, New Zealand, and other locations.

Thousands of consumers continued to receive letters and pay for services despite the fact that Operation Duvall was being covered by the media and multiple law enforcement groups.

The runner letter business was most profitable between 2005 and 2010, with a single-year total of $23 million (U.S.). Runner went on to achieve the financial success he had long sought years before.

A US civil investigation of the company’s Duval letter business began in 2014. The US Department of Justice has sent a notification of the lawsuit.

According to court documents, a US Postal Inspector discovered in 2014 that personal letters, hair lengths, palm prints, family photos, and unopened green envelopes addressed to Duval were delivered to a receiving facility in New York and disposed of in dumpsters.

The US authorities assumed that Runner’s constant moves were both an attempt to avoid detection and a way to transfer money from his most lucrative business: the Maria Duvall letters.

Arrests and Accusations

By the end of 2018, the US federal government had confirmed the case against him and charged him with 18 felonies.

Two years later, in December 2020, following extradition negotiations, Runner was handcuffed in Ibiza and taken from Madrid to New York to a Brooklyn prison.

The indictment covers numerous allegations:

For nearly two decades, Infogest Direct Marketing ran a direct mail operation targeting fraud victims who were “elderly and vulnerable”;

Runner was the company’s president, in charge of personnel who handled day-to-day operations, such as tracking mail and accepting payments.

Runner and his associates used shell businesses all around the world, including one named the Destiny Research Center, as well as private PO boxes in several US states.

Letters from mail receivers are routed to a “cage service,” an agency that accepts and administers return mail and payments for direct mail marketers, from these mailboxes.

Runner’s company used a cage service in New York, where employees removed money and processed incoming mail. The funds were subsequently transferred to accounts in banks around the world, including Liechtenstein and Switzerland, controlled by Runer and his colleagues.


The trial of United States v. Patrice Runer began on June 5, 2023, in the District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Central Islip.

“The details of his scheme may be complicated, but the fraud itself is very simple,” the prosecution told the jury. “The basic fraud is the use of a psychic character to lure people in with lies and take their money.” . . .

The prosecution went on to list Runner’s multiple attempts to disassociate himself from the business, including as deleting his name from company documents, founding offshore firms, and telling subordinates to shred documents showing his own handwriting.

The prosecution presented evidence that the letters were mass-printed, as were the alleged spiritual trinkets, which had the “Made in China” labels removed.

However, Runner’s defense argued that psychic services are inherently deceptive and hence cannot be called fraudulent.

Runner’s attorney told the jury that the government had presented no evidence that Runner meant to defraud or harm his customers.

It turned out that Runner was simply running a business that “promised the experience of astrological products and services.”

After nearly a week of deliberation, the jury convicted Patrice Runer of eight counts of mail fraud, four of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

He was found not guilty of four counts of mail fraud.

A federal jury convicted Patrice Runner, a Canadian and French citizen, of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and multiple counts of mail and wire fraud.

He was sentenced to ten years in jail in the Eastern District of New York for orchestrating a huge psychic mass-mailing fraud scheme that stole more than $175 million from over 1.3 million victims in the United States.

In the end, he would say that fraud is always fraud.

I have a question for all of you: Do we need to pay magicians to experience magic?

Are we paying money on magic cards that can forecast our desired and expected outcomes?

And, just as Patrice Runner had fantasized of living the life of a rock star as a youngster and adult, he said, “I used to live like a rock star”?

This post was written by Mario Bekes