Key player in Jamaican lottery scam could face long sentence

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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BISMARCK, North Dakota (AP) — Federal prosecutors in North Dakota are seeking a prison sentence for a Rhode Island woman who funnelled lottery scam money between the US and Jamaica that's more than double what they sought for the scheme's ringleader.

Assistant US Attorney Jonathan O'Konek said a lack of contrition and cooperation on the part of Melinda Bulgin are big reasons why the state is seeking a 14-year sentence for her, which is about eight years more than they sought for kingpin Lavrick Willocks.

Defence attorney Chad McCabe said he'll seek a sentence "more reasonable and appropriate."

A jury in September convicted the 28-year-old Bulgin of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in a scam that authorities say bilked more than 100 mostly elderly Americans out of more than US$6 million. It's believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in the US It involved 31 defendants, including 14 Jamaican nationals, most of whom accepted plea deals with the government.

Among those who accepted a plea deal was Willocks. Prosecutors say he ran the scam out of a Jamaica mansion where he lived with his mother. O'Konek recommended six years and three months in prison, and US District Judge Daniel Hovland in October sentenced him to six years, crediting him with cooperating.

Authorities say Bulgin funnelled scam proceeds via cheap flights she got through her airline job. She eventually was caught at a Jamaican airport in 2015.

"She went to trial, did not accept responsibility, and has not had empathy for the victims in this case," O'Konek said.

Authorities identified victims in 31 states, including at least one person who committed suicide. The case has been prosecuted in North Dakota because that's where the initial identified victim lives.

McCabe said his client should not be punished for exercising her right to go to trial and called it "unfortunate" that the government is seeking such a lengthy prison term.

"It does seem very harsh and unfair to ask for a sentence for Miss Bulgin that is much bigger than for an individual who played a much larger role in this case," he said.

Bulgin is to be sentenced April 17. Hovland in December ordered her detained until sentencing, saying she was "looking at significant (prison) time" and could be a flight risk.

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