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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The high concentration of valuable material in certain consumer electronics is key to the economic viability of recycling these products. Cell phones, as one example, have more precious metal by weight than raw ore does. According to the EPA, 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, and 75 pounds of gold can be recovered from a million recycled cell phones. Based on commodity market prices on August 12, 2020, these weights of metals are worth approximately $100,000, $290,000, and $2.1 million for copper, silver, and gold, respectively. In contrast, cathode ray tube (CRT) displays in older televisions and computer monitors have little recycling value, but they contain leaded glass and may be considered hazardous waste. In addition, recovery of certain valuable materials from consumer electronics is limited due to the high costs of technology and processing. Electronics recycling companies disassemble devices by shredding, which also destroys PII, or by hand. These companies then separate valuable materials for reuse (including gold, silver, platinum, and rare earth metals) from toxic materials for disposal (including brominated materials and lead). Traditional methods include burning to remove non-metal parts and separation using strong acids. New separation technologies are being used or piloted to recover precious and rare earth metals. For example, robotic disassembly uses machine learning and computer vision to more rapidly pick and sort items. Another new technology uses ultrasound to speed up the chemical removal of gold from cell phone SIM cards. Figure 2. Emerging separation technologies for recycled electronics Other technologies are emerging, like biometallurgy, which uses microorganisms to separate high-value metals from other materials, such as plastics, glass, and glue. For example, naturally occurring bacteria can oxidize gold in acidic solutions, making it soluble and thus easier to separate from other materials. Other advanced techniques, such as magnetic or electrochemical separation, are showing promise in the laboratory with existing technology. For example, in one study, researchers used ultrasound to dissolve nickel and gold within a SIM card. They then used a magnetic field to separate the dissolved nickel, which is magnetic, from the gold, which is not. Similarly, other techniques use electric fields to separate dissolved metals based on their weight and electric charge. How mature is it? Recycling technology is well established for some traditional single-stream processes, such as aluminum recycling. However, electronic devices are more complex and require disassembly and separation. At least one consumer electronics manufacturer is piloting robotic disassembly for its products. Emerging separation technologies such as ultrasound have come to market in the past decade and are being used. Manual disassembly and shredding are decades old. Biometallurgy is being tested in pilot plants, and new microorganisms are being developed in laboratories to treat electronic waste. Opportunities Increase supply and reduce imports. Recycling could increase the domestic supply of precious and rare earth metals and reduce the current U.S. reliance on overseas sources. Grow the green economy. Developing advanced recycling technologies could promote domestic business and employment. Reduce hazardous practices. A significant amount of recycling currently occurs in the developing world, where methods include open-pit burning. New technology could reduce the use of such methods, which are hazardous to the environment and human health. Lessen environmental impacts. Developing advanced recycling technologies could reduce the environmental impacts of raw ore mining and landfill disposal of hazardous materials such as lead and brominated materials. Challenges Market challenges. Markets for recovered materials may be limited, and the value of recovered materials may not be enough to cover the costs of equipment for collection, sorting, disassembly, and separation. Secure destruction of personal information. Many electronic devices contain PII. Shredding them may effectively destroy PII but may also make high-value material harder to recover. Counterfeit electronic parts. Exported used electronics may serve as a source of counterfeit electronic parts, which, as GAO previously reported, could disrupt parts of the Department of Defense supply chain and threaten the reliability of weapons systems. (See GAO-16-236, linked below.) Rapid technological development. As consumer electronics made with new materials get smaller, new technologies for separation may be needed to recycle valuable materials. Policy Context and Questions With the volume of electronic waste expected to grow, questions include: How can programs to support technological innovation, economic development, and advanced manufacturing be leveraged to promote a more robust domestic electronics recycling industry? What efforts can the federal government, states, and others make to incentivize recycling rather than disposal? What are the potential benefits and challenges of such policies? What strategies can the public and private sectors implement to address the risk that exports of used electronics will contribute to unsafe recycling practices, disclosure of PII, and counterfeit electronics? How can reductions in exports bolster job growth? For more information, contact Karen Howard at (202) 512-6888 or HowardK@gao.gov.[Read More…]
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- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Icelandic Foreign Minister ThordarsonBy Sam NewsApril 28, 2021
- Providing Humanitarian Assistance to Support the Vice President’s Leadership in Addressing Migration Challenges in Central America By Sam NewsApril 29, 2021
- Attorney General William P. Barr Announces Publication of Cryptocurrency Enforcement FrameworkBy Sam NewsOctober 8, 2020Attorney General William P. Barr announced today the release of “Cryptocurrency: An Enforcement Framework,” a publication produced by the Attorney General’s Cyber-Digital Task Force. The Framework provides a comprehensive overview of the emerging threats and enforcement challenges associated with the increasing prevalence and use of cryptocurrency; details the important relationships that the Department of Justice has built with regulatory and enforcement partners both within the United States government and around the world; and outlines the Department’s response strategies.[Read More…]
- Asphalt Contractor To Pay $4.25 Million To Settle Claims That It Misled The Government As To The Materials Used To Pave RoadBy Sam NewsSeptember 10, 2020Dave O’Mara Contractor Inc. (DOCI), an Indiana-based asphalt contractor, has agreed to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by misrepresenting to the government the materials that it was using to pave federally-funded roads in the state of Indiana, the Department of Justice announced today. Under the settlement agreement, DOCI has agreed to pay over $4.25 million over a period of four years.[Read More…]
- Five Peruvians Extradited For Overseeing Call Centers That Threatened And Defrauded Spanish-Speaking U.S. ConsumersBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020Five residents of Lima, Peru, were extradited to the United States and made their initial appearances in Miami federal court, where they stand accused of operating a large fraud and extortion scheme targeting Spanish-speaking consumers in the United States, the Department of Justice and U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced today.[Read More…]
- Brazil Can Join the Growing Clean Network by Banning HuaweiBy Sam NewsSeptember 27, 2020Keith Krach, Under [Read More…]
- The Departments of Justice and Homeland Security Publish Final Rule to Restrict Certain Criminal Aliens’ Eligibility for AsylumBy Sam NewsOctober 20, 2020Today, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security announced the publication of a Final Rule amending their respective regulations to prevent certain categories of criminal aliens from obtaining asylum in the United States. The rule takes effect 30 days after publication of the Final Rule in the Federal Register, which is scheduled to occur on Wednesday, Oct. 21.[Read More…]
- Washington Man Charged With COVID-Relief FraudBy Sam NewsOctober 27, 2020A Washington man was charged in a criminal complaint unsealed today for fraudulently seeking over $1.1 million in COVID-19 relief guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.[Read More…]
- NASA Wins 4 Webbys, 4 People’s Voice AwardsBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Winners include the [Read More…]
- Housing: Preliminary Analysis of Homeownership Trends for Nine CitiesBy Sam NewsJuly 30, 2020Following a decade of decline, including after the 2007–2009 financial crisis, the national homeownership rate started to recover in 2016 (see figure). Homeownership Rate in the United States, 1990–2018 Note: Shaded areas indicate U.S. recessions. However, not all Americans have benefitted from the recovery, even in housing markets that appear to be thriving. GAO examined homeownership trends during 2010–2018 in nine core-based statistical areas (cities)—Chicago; Cleveland; Columbia, South Carolina; Denver; Houston; Pittsburgh; San Francisco; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. In summary, among the nine cities reviewed, GAO found that during 2010–2018: The homeownership rate declined or was flat in all cities. The homeownership rate significantly declined in Chicago, Cleveland, and Houston and remained statistically unchanged in the other cities. Average home prices grew in all cities, but at considerably different rates. For example, real house prices increased significantly in Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle but much less in Chicago, Cleveland, and Columbia. The homeowner vacancy rate dropped in all cities, indicating growing constraints on the housing supply. Most significantly, by 2018, the three cities with the largest house price increases—Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle—all had homeowner vacancy rates below 1 percent and the three lowest rental vacancy rates (below 5 percent), indicating more severe constraints on supply. Most cities became denser, and some also expanded outward. Cities such as Houston and Washington, D.C., both became denser (added more housing units in developed areas) and expanded outward (added housing units in previously undeveloped areas), while cities such as Seattle and Denver grew largely by adding more density to already high-density areas. Chicago, and Pittsburgh became less dense, as limited growth came largely through outward expansion. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly higher-income. All nine cities saw growth in the estimated number and percentage of households reporting annual incomes of $150,000 or more (the highest income category reported by Census). Similarly, with the exception of Columbia, real median incomes of borrowers increased in the selected cities. Homeowners and recent borrowers were increasingly older and more diverse. Most cities saw growth in homeownership among households aged 60 and older, often with corresponding decreases among younger owners. Additionally, loan originations by minority borrowers increased in all cities. GAO's analysis of homeownership trends in these nine cities during 2010–2018 illustrates two main points: (1) Cities grew differently and accommodated growth to differing degrees, and (2) who owns and who can buy a home differs by location and type of buyer, sometimes substantially. Historically, owning a home has been one of the primary ways Americans built wealth and financial security. This is one reason why the availability and price of housing is consequential to both households and policymakers. GAO was asked to assess the state of the current domestic housing market and this report, one in a series, focuses on homeownership trends. To conduct this work, GAO used data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey and Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data (loan and application data filed by mortgage lenders), among other sources, to identify trends in nine selected cities during 2010–2018, the most current data available at the time of GAO's review. This report examines trends prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and does not account for the profound effect it likely will have on homeowners. GAO has ongoing work that will examine implementation of foreclosure and eviction protections authorized in recent legislation. GAO makes no recommendations in this report. For more information, contact Daniel Garcia-Diaz at (202) 512-8678 or firstname.lastname@example.org.[Read More…]
- Bhutan National DayBy Sam NewsDecember 16, 2020Michael R. Pompeo, [Read More…]
- Department of Justice Files Statement of Interest Challenging New Mexico’s More Stringent COVID-19 Capacity Limits on Private Schools than Public SchoolsBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020The Department of Justice today filed a statement of interest in a New Mexico federal court asserting that the States’ COVID-19 rules limiting private schools to operating at 25% of capacity but allowing public schools to operate at 50% of capacity violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.[Read More…]
- Briefing with Senior State Department Officials to Traveling PressBy Sam NewsMay 6, 2021
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Ecuadorian President-Elect LassoBy Sam NewsApril 25, 2021
- Malawi Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Do not travel [Read More…]
- Indictment Charges Alaska Man for Threatening a California SynagogueBy Sam NewsSeptember 21, 2020A federal grand jury in Alaska, returned an indictment charging William Alexander, 49, for threatening to kill the congregants of a California synagogue, the Justice Department announced today.[Read More…]
- The Expected Parole of Hampig “Harry” SassounianBy Sam NewsMarch 12, 2021
- Secretary Blinken’s Call with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al SaudBy Sam NewsFebruary 25, 2021
- This Week in Iran PolicyBy Sam NewsDecember 19, 2020
- Florida Man Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Obstructing the IRSBy Sam NewsJuly 29, 2020A Florida man was sentenced to 36 months in prison today for corruptly obstructing the due administration of the internal revenue laws, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida.[Read More…]
- Four Plead Guilty to Multi-State Dogfighting ConspiracyBy Sam NewsJune 1, 2021Four defendants pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting and conspiracy charges for their roles in an inter-state dogfighting network across the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and New Jersey.[Read More…]
- NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Gets BalancedBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020The mission team [Read More…]
- Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Katharine T. Sullivan and Office for Victims of Crime Director Jessica E. Hart Recognize Domestic Violence Month at a Law Enforcement and Domestic Violence RoundtableBy Sam NewsOctober 23, 2020Yesterday, Office of [Read More…]
- GAO Audits Involving DOD: Status of Efforts to Schedule and Hold Timely Entrance ConferencesBy Sam NewsAugust 14, 2020GAO began 42 new audits that involved the Department of Defense (DOD) in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. Of the 42 requested entrance conferences (i.e., initial meetings between agency officials and GAO staff) for those audits, DOD scheduled 41 within 14 days of notification and held all 42 entrance conferences within 30 days of notification. Scheduling was delayed for one entrance conference, which was scheduled 21 days after notification, because DOD and GAO were working to reach agreement on the primary action officer, which is the appropriate office or component within the department that coordinates DOD's response to the audit. The entrance conference was held 8 days after it was scheduled. Entrance conferences allow GAO to communicate its audit objectives and enable agencies to assign key personnel to support the audit work. GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO's agency protocols govern GAO's relationships with audited agencies. These protocols assist GAO in scheduling entrance conferences with key agency officials within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit. The ability of the Congress to conduct effective oversight of federal agencies is enhanced through the timely completion of GAO audits. In past years, DOD experienced difficulty meeting the protocol target for the timely facilitation of entrance conferences. In Senate Report 116-48 accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee included a provision for GAO to review DOD's scheduling and holding of entrance conferences. In this report, GAO evaluates the extent to which DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of receiving notice of a new audit, consistent with GAO's agency protocols, and held those conferences within 30 days. This is the third of four quarterly reports that GAO will produce on this topic for fiscal year 2020. In the first two quarterly reports, GAO found that DOD had improved its ability to meet the protocol target. GAO analyzed data on GAO audits involving DOD and initiated in the third quarter of fiscal year 2020 (April 1, 2020, through June 30, 2020). Specifically, GAO identified the number of notification letters requesting entrance conferences that were sent to DOD during that time period. GAO determined the number of days between when DOD received the notification letter for each new audit and when DOD scheduled the entrance conference and assessed whether DOD scheduled entrance conferences within 14 days of notification, which is the time frame identified in GAO's agency protocols. GAO also determined the date that each requested entrance conference was held by collecting this information from the relevant GAO team for each audit and assessed whether DOD held entrance conferences for new audits within 30 days of notification, which was the time frame identified in the mandate for this review For more information, contact Elizabeth Field at (202) 512-2775 or Fielde1@gao.gov.[Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces Global Resolution of Criminal and Civil Investigations with Opioid Manufacturer Purdue Pharma and Civil Settlement with Members of the Sackler FamilyBy Sam NewsOctober 21, 2020Today, the Department of Justice announced a global resolution of its criminal and civil investigations into the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma LP (Purdue), and a civil resolution of its civil investigation into individual shareholders from the Sackler family. The resolutions with Purdue are subject to the approval of the bankruptcy court.[Read More…]
- Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim Delivers Opening Remarks at the 2020 Life Sciences WorkshopBy Sam NewsSeptember 25, 2020“Light My Fire”: [Read More…]
- Zimbabwe Independence DayBy Sam NewsApril 18, 2021
- Ukraine Travel AdvisoryBy Sam NewsSeptember 26, 2020Reconsider travel to [Read More…]
- Justice Department Announces $29 Million To Support Justice And Mental Health ProgramsBy Sam NewsOctober 15, 2020The Department of [Read More…]