The alleged masterminds behind the massive Maria Duval psychic con aren't shaping up to be the people you might expect.
Instead, what we've found is truly bizarre.
To catch you up: Our search began with Duval herself, who is the face of a multimillion dollar mail fraud scam currently being investigated by U.S. authorities and the subject of a separate 2007 settlement. But we quickly found ourselves in a tangled web of shell companies, front men and international businessmen who all seem to be somehow involved with the empire.
And last week, we think we figured out where it all started: with two Europeans by the names of Jacques Mailland and Jean-Claude Reuille.
Let's start with Mailland.
A surprising twist
We've been told by a former employee (see Chapter 3) that Mailland is the one who turned Duval, a small-town French psychic into an international sensation by putting her face and signature on millions of letters. Sent to the elderly, poor and sick, these letters requested payments in return for personalized psychic readings, talismans and winning lottery numbers.
We first saw Mailland's name on old domain registrations for Duval's websites. On Facebook, we found a profile picture of him with his grandchildren, along with a number of photos of him kitesurfing and relaxing in Brazil -- leaving us wondering if this was even the right man.
But as we dug deeper, we were able to find a few clues that it was, and that he might still be involved in Duval's operations. His Google+ Profile, for example, shows a connection to a name we recognized: Duval's psychic sidekick Patrick Guerin had Mailland in his circle of friends.
We also found a list of attendees of a marketing conference from a few years ago that listed him as a representative of a Swiss firm called World of Concepts. This was a name we had seen on a number of recent copyright registrations for Duval ads in Russia and Ukraine. While we haven't seen these ads, this suggests that the company has been running or preparing to publish ads for Duval's services there.
And when Willem Bosma, a journalist from the Dutch newspaper Leeuwarder Courant, read about our hunt, he contacted us with a wealth of information from his own investigation back in 2007. At the time, he was told that Mailland worked closely with Duval, with some even calling him Duval's "personal secretary." And when Bosma reached him by phone, he says that Mailland acknowledged his involvement with the Duval operations.
"In a way it is our purpose to make money, but life improvement is a higher purpose... You have true people and you have crooks," Mailland said, according to Bosma's notes. "When you don't use an ethical standard, your business doesn't last. When you cheat people, that is wrong. We have everyone refunded, if they aren't satisfied with our products."
We too had tried to speak with Mailland. Desperate to track him down, we called every phone number we could find and emailed a number of possible email addresses with no luck. We also contacted women who appear to be his daughters, but they didn't respond.
Finally, we emailed the kitesurfing school in Brazil that had posted photos of him, and we received the following reply:
Sorry but he is dead!!!
He had an accident in France in May.
This unexpected news was quickly corroborated by one of his past business associates, who said Mailland had died in a motorbike accident last year. We tried for weeks to find an accident report or other official record of his death, but were unsuccessful.
We had so many questions we wanted to ask him, especially as we grew more confused about how such a seemingly fun-loving family man could allegedly be involved in such a heartless scheme.
But if he's really dead, we may never know.
UFOs and human cloning
With this door closed for now, we turned to Jean-Claude Reuille, the other man on our list of potential key players. And our online sleuthing revealed a very peculiar individual.
The really weird stuff came from an article in a Swiss magazine, L'Hebdo, from more than 20 years ago. The article takes a skeptical look at Reuille's success over the years, and a translation revealed that Reuille was involved with a religion we had never heard of.
Called Raelism, a Google search immediately informed us that this is a "UFO religion" centered on the belief that humans descended from aliens. Its website even boasts a Swastika-inspired Star of David as a logo, though it says the image symbolizes peace.
We then saw Reuille's name listed as the publisher of a Rael book in 2001, "Yes to Human Cloning: Eternal Life Thanks to Science" (though Reuille would later tell us he left the religion decades ago). Swiss government filings also show he owned his own publishing business, with such titles as "Le Massage Erotique."
Meanwhile, the L'Hebdo article describes him as a mail order titan of sorts, with a laundry list of ventures he has hawked over the years -- including painkiller bracelets, a device that instantly ages wine and shoe insoles that help you lose weight. These insoles were later the subject of a FTC settlement ordering $100,000 in refunds, though Reuille was not named in the suit.
"I only sell a product once I deem it good for my clients," he told L'Hebdo in French.
And it was at about the same time the L'Hebdo article was written -- in 1994 -- that we've been told Mailland hatched the Duval mail scheme for Reuille's company.
Our anonymous source, the former Astroforce employee whom you met in Chapter 3, told us that Reuille managed the two companies in charge of the Duval operation in the 90s (Astroforce and Infogest), though he said Reuille was careful to keep his name off of business filings.
But if this is true, is Reuille still at the helm of Duval's operations? Or has he passed the baton? You might remember, we heard from former employee Lukas Mattle that Infogest "was finished." Does that mean Reuille is "finished" too?
We tried calling Reuille at every number we could find. Most were disconnected, and one led us to a generic French voicemail.
It appears that he lived in Switzerland for many years, but moved to Thailand in 2006. As a last ditch effort, we sent written letters to the Thai and Swiss mailing addresses we found for him, and were surprised to receive an email from the man himself. He wouldn't provide a phone number where we could reach him, but he did agree to answer some of our questions by email.
Reuille admits that Infogest was once his company. He says that he bought a number of businesses in 1991, which included a health firm named BodyWell. In 1996, he says all of his companies were grouped together into Reuille Holding, a firm that would eventually be named Infogest. That same year, he says that he began the process of selling the business and resigned from his management role. However, he remained a shareholder for a decade -- during the same time Duval's mailings were being sent around the world. He says he received his last payment from the buyout when he retired in 2006.
We asked him repeatedly whom he sold the business to, but he wouldn't say.
He was also quick to deny any involvement with Duval or her letters -- even though Infogest itself admitted to representing Duval's business operations in 2005 in response to a complaint filed with the New Zealand Advertising Authority.
Instead, he said that he had no management authority of Infogest in 2005 and that his only recollection of Duval was from her travels around the world with Mailland. This was interesting, because we later heard from one of Duval's family members that Duval had been in a romantic relationship with a man named Jacques -- though it's unclear if this is the same man, since she didn't remember his last name.
"I had the chance to share a few lunch or dinner with them," Reuille wrote. "If I remember correctly, the last one was long time ago in Paris."
Too many coincidences
Reuille said Duval and Mailland were part of a company called Astroforce, but initially claimed to have nothing to do with that firm either. This contradicted what we had found about a close link between Infogest and Astroforce, so we asked him to explain the following connections:
1. Reuille was listed as a shareholder of a Dutch firm previously known as Astroforce in 2002, according to business filings.
2. Reuille's company, Reuille Holding (which later became Infogest), used the same Danish law firm on trademark applications in Denmark in the late 90s as Astroforce did. And they used the same auditing firm. Both companies were also repeatedly represented by Swiss attorney Andrea Egger, whom we were told represented Duval on her first U.S. trademark application.
3. The Swiss firm Astroforce and the UK firm Bodywell, which Reuille was listed as a director of, previously operated under the same name: "Direct Home Shopping," according to business filings.
4. The former Astroforce employee we interviewed said Astroforce operated out of the Infogest offices, meaning the two companies shared the same building. In the UK, Reuille's firm Bodywell and Astroforce were both registered at the same address.
5. In an online testimonial, Reuille boasts that copywriter Kelvin Parker helped Reuille's group of companies bring in millions of dollars. On Parker's LinkedIn page, he states that he worked for Astroforce Australia from 1999 to 2003 -- the same time period he claims to have worked for the Reuille Group and Bodywell. Parker didn't respond to repeated emails and phone calls.
6. A number of the people involved with Duval's letters have also worked for Reuille, and multiple former employees are adamant that he was directly involved with the Duval mailings.
Are these really all coincidences?
Reuille wouldn't comment on any of the specific connections. While he maintained that he "was never owner or manager of any Astroforce or Maria Duval companies," he acknowledged that he had "excellent contact" with the Astroforce management team up until 1996. This included things like sharing mailing lists, subcontractors and even restaurant recommendations.
But even if Reuille was involved at the beginning, contrary to what he claims, there is no evidence that he is currently involved.
So who's in charge now?
With Mailland potentially dead and Reuille out of the picture, who is calling the shots?
Reuille refused to tell us who he sold the business to, and the only name that has been listed as the leader of Infogest in recent years is Beda Mattle -- a Swiss man we have found surprisingly little information about.
So could Mattle be the person who bought Infogest from Reuille? One of our anonymous sources, who worked at Infogest up until a few years ago, confirmed that Mattle was indeed the CEO of the company. But he was unsure how much power Mattle actually had, suspecting his title may have simply been a way to mask the company's true leadership.
We haven't been able to find any working contact information for Mattle, and we are still trying to get back in touch with the person we suspect is his relative, Lukas Mattle (whom we discussed in Chapter 3 because he was listed as Infogest's new company director in 2012).
But with business filings showing that Infogest liquidated in 2014, it's very possible that a completely different company -- with new leadership -- is now in charge. Or maybe the scheme has grown so much that there is no single person in charge.
So instead of continuing down the Infogest rabbit hole, we decided to turn to the most recent traces of Duval herself.
This led us to Russia -- where we found a flurry of Duval activity including complaints and news articles, and most notably a website in her name offering psychic guidance in Russian. This is where we came across the name of a new Swiss businessman: Lucio Parrella.
Parrella, who Reuille told us was a former employee of one of his companies, is currently listed as the administrative contact for Duval's website and works for World of Concepts, the company registering copyrights for Duval ads in Russia.
We spoke to Parrella over the phone through a French interpreter and he acknowledged that he currently sells rights to Duval's books for Listano Limited (the apparent shell company from 37 Greenhill Street in Stratford-upon-Avon), though he claims to know nothing about her letters.
When we asked why his email was listed as the contact for Duval's website, he said he had no idea and was working on getting it removed. He also let it slip that Mailland (whom he originally hadn't acknowledged working with) might have been the one to put it there, suggesting that Mailland was still involved with Duval's letters in recent years.
And Duval isn't the only psychic Parrella has worked with. There's a new clairvoyant in town, and this time it's a young, handsome Swiss man named Martin Zoller, who lives in Panama.
Along with World of Concepts, Parrella also works as a manager for a company called Golden Mind. This firm provides Zoller's psychic guidance and self-help advice to people around the world for a fee, this time via email (though Zoller has not been accused of any wrongdoing). A main shareholder of Golden Mind, Franz Linden, is another familiar name. He just happened to have made a donation to a Thai nonprofit as a wedding gift for Reuille, according to an online newsletter.
But where do Linden and Parrella fit into all of this, and could Zoller be the next international psychic sensation? Or will it be someone else?
The new psychic frontier
Along with Zoller, we have begun to trace a number of suspiciously familiar psychic operations to very similar origins. There's a an elderly medium named Laetizia, for example, and a clairvoyant wearing a brightly-colored sari named Alisha, and then a young blue-eyed psychic named Rinalda.
So while the Duval scheme may have started with two enterprising businessmen decades ago, there's a new world of psychics with their own names, faces and promises -- all using the same basic model. (Read about them here).
But in the end, it always comes back to Duval -- the face that has managed to stick around for decades.
It's no wonder this has been an impossible case for law enforcement to solve. Even though we've now discovered more information than many of the investigators around the globe, we still haven't been able to connect all of the dots.
And as much as we want to zero in on the current ringleaders of the Duval fraud, we realize that it may truly be an impossible task. There are so many companies. And so many people. And the money seems to have gone through an endless number of hands.
But even as the business operations have evolved, bouncing from shell company to shell company, the famous psychic at the center of the scheme has remained constant.
Who is this woman? Who is Maria Duval?
It was with her that our journey began, and it is with her that it must end.
We need to talk to the psychic herself.