MIAMI, United States (CMC) — The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) says a Jamaican man has been arrested and charged with participating in a telemarketing conspiracy and committing 37 counts of wire fraud.
The ICE said that the charges resulted from an investigation conducted by its Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the US Postal Inspection Service and the US Marshals Service.
It said Oneike Mickhale Barnett, 27, and his co-conspirators "ran a lottery scam in Jamaica that fraudulently induced elderly victims in the United States to send them thousands of dollars to cover fees for lottery winnings that the victims had not in fact won".
If convicted, Barnett faces a maximum sentence of 30 years in jail on each count.
Beginning in October 2008, ICE said Barnett and his co-conspirators "allegedly made calls from Jamaica to victims using voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), giving the impression that the call came from a US area code.
The ICE said once Barnett and his co-conspirators made contact with the victims, they would inform the victims they had won cash and prizes and would persuade them to send thousands of dollars in fees to release the money.
But it said the victims never received cash or prizes.
According to the indictment, Barnett and his co-conspirators convinced victims to send money to middlemen in South Florida, who forwarded the money to Jamaica.
"These individuals are preying on some of the most vulnerable members in our communities," said Alysa D Erichs, special agent in charge of HSI Miami.
"We will continue to work with our partners in Jamaica and other law enforcement agencies to put these criminal enterprises out of business," she added.
Ronald Verrochio, inspector in charge for the US Postal Inspection Service, said the arrest "highlights the joint effort between US and Jamaican law enforcement to prosecute those who prey on our nation's senior citizens.
"The mission of the US Postal Inspection Service is to protect consumers by ensuring the nation's mail system is not used as a tool for fraud."
Acting US Marshal for the Southern District of Florida Neil DeSousa said his office, along with the Jamaica Foreign Field Office and the Organised Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, remain committed to locating and apprehending criminals who defraud elderly Americans.
"We will continue to work with the US Postal Inspection Service and US Department of Homeland Security on the JOLT task force in the ongoing effort to combat lottery fraud targeting some of our most vulnerable citizens," he said.
US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said while these scams are based in Jamaica, they transmit considerable amounts of money through south Florida.
"We will continue to prosecute those who use south Florida as a base from which to pursue this illegal activity," he said.