Imprisoned Over Huge Scam, He Insists It Was All Legal

'The Walrus' tells the story of Patrice Runner, who pitched psychic services to believers
By Steve Huff,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2023 5:05 PM CDT
How One Copywriter Conned People Out of $200M
   (Getty Images)

As a teen, Canadian Patrice Runner was so intrigued by the power of persuasive copywriting that he set out to become one. Eventually, he was running a booming direct marketing business selling numerous schemes and self-help publications—and the abilities of a psychic, Maria Duval. As Rachel Browne writes for the Walrus, Runner collected a small fortune from over a million people in the US and Canada seeking Duval's otherworldly acumen. Problems began for Runner, however, when some of these clients became skeptical that they were actually reading correspondence from Duval. Fast-forward to present-day: The 57-year-old sits in an American prison, where he might remain for decades, after "orchestrating one of the biggest mail-order scams in North American history," writes Browne.

Browne doesn't just recount the scam, however: She got in touch with the imprisoned entrepreneur in 2022 to get his side of the story, and it makes for a fascinating look into the mind of someone who insists that he never crossed a legal line. "Maybe it's not moral, maybe it's bull---," he says. "But it doesn't mean it's fraud." As a matter of fact, that's exactly what it is, argued prosecutors. "It is a crime when you lie to (people) about their beliefs and take their money," said one of them, in closing arguments. They made the case that Runner and his Infogest Direct Marketing Company swindled victims, many of them elderly and economically vulnerable, out of more than $200 million over 20 years. The story tracks Runner's tale, as well as that of the psychic Duval, whose role in all this remains murky. Read the full story. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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