The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida entered a permanent injunction against three individuals and two companies who had been operating an international mail fraud scheme. The order bars defendants from operating or otherwise engaging in a psychic mailing scheme and, more broadly, from engaging in any mass-mail or prize promotion marketing in the United States, the Justice Department announced.
As alleged in the complaint, Robert Lhez, Mireille Dayer and Julie Poulleau, all residents of France, utilized corporate defendants Arcana Center, a Delaware corporation, and Partners VAD International Sàrl, a Swiss corporation, to facilitate and promote various psychic mail fraud schemes. In particular, the complaint alleges that the defendants mailed hundreds of thousands of solicitations purportedly sent on behalf of individuals or companies offering psychic, clairvoyant or astrological services to recipients throughout the United States. These solicitations were riddled with false and misleading statements that gave the false impression that in exchange for payment of a small fee, typically of $45 or $50, the individual recipient would come into good fortune resulting in an imminent financial windfall though the lottery, inheritance or other game of chance. The complaint further alleged that tens of thousands of victims, primarily the elderly or vulnerable, sent payments totaling millions of dollars to defendants. From March 2017 to June 2018 alone, victims sent in more than 34,000 payments, for a total of more than $1.4 million. These victims, however, never received the promised benefit.
“The Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch will continue to investigate and bring cases to stop mass mailing fraud when it arises,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Individuals who perpetrate fraud schemes like those at issue here must be held accountable.”
“Beyond financial losses, predatory fraud schemes like this one lead to immense emotional suffering for victims,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Juan Antonio Gonzalez for the Southern District of Florida. “We urge the public to question promotions that seem too good to be true and immediately report suspected fraud to law enforcement.”
“Thursday’s defendants have been known to Postal Inspectors for years, constantly changing their fraudulent schemes in the attempt to stay one step ahead of the law,” said Inspector in Charge Eric Shen of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Criminal Investigations Group. “The permanent injunctions make it clear, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and its law enforcement partners will peel back the layers until we find the individuals behind these schemes and hold them accountable.”
Under the terms of the consent decree and final judgement, defendants agreed to be permanently barred from sending any mass mail marketing material to the United States, including any pieces referencing psychic services and prizes, as well as from participating in such activities by serving as a consultant or working for a company engaged in those efforts. Defendants also agreed to be prohibited from selling or leasing lists of U.S. residents who have responded to these and similar solicitations. The order also granted the U.S. Postal Service the ability to detain any mail responding to defendants’ solicitations and return, where possible, money to victims.
The government is represented by Trial Attorneys Ann Entwistle and Yolanda McCray Jones of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch and Assistant U.S. Attorney James Weinkle for the Southern District of Florida. The United States Postal Inspection Service provided investigative support.
The department’s extensive and broad-based efforts to combat elder fraud seeks 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 available at the National Elder Fraud Hotline: 1-833-FRAUD-11 (1-833-372-8311). This 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.
Additional information about the Consumer Protection Branch and its enforcement efforts may be found at www.justice.gov/civil/consumer-protection-branch. For more information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, visit its website at https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdfl. Information about the Department of Justice’s Elder Fraud Initiative is available at www.justice.gov/elderjustice.