Jamaican lottery scammer to spend 20 years in US prison

Thursday, November 26, 2015

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BISMARCK, North Dakota (AP) — A federal judge in North Dakota sentenced a Jamaican man to 20 years in prison on Tuesday for a lottery scam that authorities say cost victims around the United States millions of dollars.

A jury in May convicted 26-year-old Sanjay Williams, of Montego Bay, St James, of 35 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. US District Court Judge Daniel Hovland sentenced Williams during a two-hour court appearance, during which Williams was defiant and often argumentative with the Bismarck-based judge.

Williams said the allegations against him were "fictitious" and the "jury failed to use their common sense" when convicting him.

Investigators describe Williams and Lavrick Willocks as leaders of two separate scamming operations based in Jamaica.

Frank Gasper, a Bismarck-based FBI agent, said more than 80 of the victims of Willocks and Williams have been identified and their losses are more than US$5.6 million. Willocks has been charged but not extradited to the United States.

Prosecutors said the case came to light four years ago when eight-six-year-old Edna Schmeets of Harvey, North Dakota, received a call from a man who told her she had won US$19 million and a new car, and needed only to pay taxes and fees. The process dragged on until the widow's savings were wiped out, a sum of more than US$300,000.

A teary Schmeets told Hovland that she "lost everything" and has been "hurt not only financially but emotionally."

Schmeets said she shared her story with the judge so that others would not be taken by scammers.

"It's hard to think you could fall for this stuff," Schmeets told Hovland. "I don't know how they get you, but they do. It's almost like they hypnotise you."

Marlow McMahan, of Salt Lake City, Utah, travelled to North Dakota to see Williams sentenced "and put where he can't hurt anyone again". McMahan, 84, did not say how much he lost in the scam, though he told the judge he was forced to borrow from banks and friends to claim a bogus multimillion-dollar prize.

"I come from a time when your word was your word and when somebody tells me I won millions of dollars, I believe them," McMahan told the judge.

Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter, the lead prosecutor in the case, also posted on a video screen a suicide letter from a 72-year-old woman who was taken in by the scam.

Williams is the first Jamaican national tried and convicted in the US for selling lead lists for use in international cyber fraud. Lead lists consist of the names, telephone numbers, and personal information of potential victims and are sold to lottery scammers. Some lead lists are created by list wholesalers who send out bogus mass mailings purporting to be sweepstakes entries. Consumers, thinking the mailings are legitimate, pay to enter the non-existent sweepstakes. The wholesalers in turn pocket the entry fee then sell the consumers' contact information to scammers for as much as US$5.50 per potential victim.

"The victims who -- despite their regret or embarrassment -- come forward to tell their stories are heroes," said US Attorney Christopher C Myers. "Victims are targeted because their age or personal circumstances make them particularly vulnerable; the resulting harm is financial, psychological, and physical. Until recently, these scammers operated with impunity. We are helping to find them and hold them accountable for their crimes."

In recent years, estimates by US officials put the yearly take by Jamaican fraudsters at US$300 million, but
some American authorities suspected the total was far higher. In 2012, C Steven Baker, a Chicago-based director with the US Federal Trade Commission, told The Associated Press that Jamaica's scammers could be bilking Americans out of US$1 billion a year.

In the meantime, another Jamaican man pleaded guilty in the West Virginia federal court yesterday to conspiring to scam US citizens through an international lottery scheme.

The Exponent Telegram reported 52-year-old Davel Godfrey Young pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud with other co-conspirators from September 2008 through July 2011.

Assistant US Attorney Andrew Cogar said the defendants made unsolicited calls or sent messages to targets, falsely informing them they had won a multimillion-dollar lottery prize and a new vehicle. The targets were also told they needed to pay taxes and processing fees by wiring funds.

According to the indictment, some of the targets included residents of West Virginia. Cogar stipulated that a part of the scheme was committed from outside the country.

Young will be sentenced at a later date.


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