Prosecutors Shut Down ‘Psychic’ Mail Scheme

     BROOKLYN (CN) — Federal officials shut down two purported psychics accused of defrauding consumers out of $180 million by claiming they had visions that could predict winning lottery numbers.
     The alleged scam involved letters sent by purported psychics Maria Duval and Patrick Guerin, who claimed they had visions and psychic readings that could help people win lottery contests, according to prosecutors.
     From 2000 through 2014, Duval and Guerin offered their psychic advice in exchange for fees, but in reality the claims were merely mass-produced form letters that had been sent to thousands of customers, many of whom were old or poor, prosecutors allege.
     The consent decree, filed on May 5, bars Duval and Guerin from mailing or distributing advertisements claiming either their or others’ supposed psychic powers could bring consumers good luck.
     Some of the flyers at issues allegedly claimed the visions were due to visions to Indian shamans and included pictures of “precious statues” that would impart “positive radiance” that would change the consumer’s life. Other flyers claimed knowledge of “magical dates” that were in tune with “astral forces,” according to the U.S. Justice Department.
     The mailers also falsely promised that certain statues and talismans, sold for $50, were unique and specific to each customer, when in fact they were mass-produced, prosecutors say.
     “In celebration of your NEW LIFE, we’ve prepared a mysterious and extraordinary gift for you — a powerful talisman,” one flyer allegedly stated. “It’s the same Talisman that Patrick Guerin carries with him all the time. He’s never shared it before, but in your case he had no hesitation.”
     Some of the flyers, which had hand-written sections, even requested consumers send back a personal photograph or strands of hair to help refine their future “astral-clairvoyant forecasts.”
     All told, companies connected to Duval and Guerin sent millions of flyers and advertisements to consumers, according to court records. The scheme allegedly defrauded over 1 million Americans out of more than $180 million in total.
     After hundreds of consumer complaints about the solicitations to the postal service and Federal Trade Commission, federal authorities stepped in.
     In addition to Duval and Guerin, a 2014 lawsuit named as defendants Hong Kong-based company Destiny Research Center, Canadian company Infogest Direct Marketing, and New York-based Data Marketing Group for their involvement in printing the mailers and invoicing customers.
     “To line their own pockets, the defendants preyed upon the superstition and desperation of millions of vulnerable Americans,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in a statement.
     Duval and Guerin had long been on federal officials’ radar. In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service issued a cease and desist order to Duval and her company, Zodiac Zone, for sending promotional mailers to consumers. However, Duval apparently started using similar mailers sent by Destiny Research Center, court records show.
     Duval was reportedly born in Italy but has lived in France. The blog www.mariaduvalnotscam.wordpress.com claims her psychic powers are real and that she has helped locate missing persons.
     Guerin’s blog and related website, www.patrick-guerin.fr, claims he is “the most celebrated ‘power medium’ of our times.”
     An attorney representing the defendants, Arunabha Bhoumik of the firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips, did not immediately respond Monday to an email requesting comment.

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