LITTLE under a year since its launch, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force (MOCA) has seized cash and drugs worth at least $357 million, as it makes steady headway in taking the profits out of organised crime in Jamaica.
The task force has also arrested at least 12 persons and seized a fleet of motor vehicles used by criminals. It has also made significant dents in the lotto scam, which is rife within the western parishes of the island.
The latest and biggest drug bust came last Saturday when the investigatory arm seized some $264 million worth of cocaine in St James.
Three persons — including a contractor from the Guardsman security company — were arrested in that operation, which saw the highly priced contraband being transported in one of the security company's marked motor vehicles.
"MOCA is committed to taking the profits out of crime, we are committed to going after the major players and we will continue to carry out our mandate in putting a serious dent on the whole organised crime scene," said MOCA's liaison officer Inspector Dahlia Garrick, following last weeks' bust on the Mount Carey main road.
Garrick said that last week's drug seizure was the culmination of a series of intelligence-driven operations facilitated by the Jamaica Constabulary Force and the Jamaica Defence Force, as well as the Transnational Crime and Narcotics Division.
"In recent weeks you would have seen where MOCA has been going on some major operations, going on some major scenes and we have been making some level of success," noted Garrick. "The lottery scam task force is a part of MOCA as well, and you would have seen the good job that they have been doing to disrupt lottery scam activities," she added.
On April 4, last year, Minister of National Security Peter Bunting, launched the task force, justifying its relevance and importance to Jamaica's crime-fighting efforts.
Bunting said that MOCA would target crime kingpins and facilitators, including lawyers, bankers and other public officials, and that it would only investigate selected cases.
"Targeting these top bosses and their facilitators is a most effective way of degrading criminal network, seizing their assets and undermining their power, which ultimately allows the network to be permanently dismantled," Bunting said.
MOCA comprises representatives from the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Jamaica Defence Force, the Financial Investigations Division, and the Taxpayer Audit and Assessment Department.
Last week, the Ministry of National Security outlined some of MOCA's major breakthroughs since inception. They include:
* A MOCA-led investigation involving FID and Jamaica Customs resulted in the arrest of Sohail Muhammed Siddiq, a Pakistani American who was intercepted at the Norman Manley Airport with three hundred thousand Euros (¤300,000) after travelling from Dubai via South America to Jamaica.
During interrogation, Siddiq claimed that he was in Jamaica to purchase cellular phones for resale in Africa. Investigators found that Siddiq was linked to an earlier group of money couriers, two of whom were intercepted at the Norman Manley Airport in December 2011 with over half million United States dollars which, purportedly, was also to be spent on the purchase of cellular phones. It is to be noted that there is no market in Jamaica for supplying such large quantities of cellular phones. Siddiq was tried and convicted for breaches of POCA and the Customs Act and the money forfeited. He was subsequently deported.
* MOCA conducted an operation in Falmouth, Trelawny, to rescue an elderly American male who was lured to Jamaica by lottery scammers on the premise that he had won a US$37- million lottery prize. Two persons, Kemar Steele and his common law wife, Kemisha Simmons of Duncans Hill, Trelawny were arrested and charged with Conspiracy to Defraud, Possession of Criminal Property, and Money Laundering. The suspects were attempting to charge the American over US$300,000.
* MOCA investigations in Old Harbour Bay led to the seizure of over 1,000 rounds of .22 ammunition which, according to intelligence, were some of the proceeds of the guns for drugs trade between Jamaica and Haiti.
* MOCA coordinated and participated in a joint operation with the JDF and TCND in Ocho Rios, St Ann, which resulted in the arrest of 10 persons and the seizure of 4,000 pounds of compressed ganja with a street value of J$25 million, as well as four vehicles, to include the truck in which the ganja was conveyed from St Elizabeth to the location of the operation.
* MOCA led a major operation which resulted in the arrest of Uriel James also known as 'Rooksie', a real estate developer and area don from the Rose Town community of Kingston. 'Rooksie' was already facing the court on murder and shooting charges but had always managed to obtain bail despite his flaunting of bail conditions and the strenuous objections by the police. The arrest of 'Rooksie' triggered the reopening of numerous other investigations into allegations of serious crimes committed over several years.
* Another MOCA-led investigation involving the FID culminated in an operation in which Tarick Bucknor, a Montego Bay cambio and MoneyGram operator was arrested. Bucknor is under investigation for scamming millions of dollars from scores of victims in the United States. The evidence gathered during the operation pointed to an elaborate scheme to launder monies scammed from American victims through several businesses, including the cambio and MoneyGram remittance outlet that he operated, as well as a pharmacy owned by business associates. Several motor vehicles, firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, financial records, and other items of evidence were seized and Bucknor was arrested along with several others and charged for a variety of offences. Money laundering and lottery scamming-related charges are pending against Bucknor.
* MOCA-led operation resulted in the arrest of West Kingston businessman Justin O'Gilvie, who was charged for Breaches of the Private Security Regulation Act. O'Gilvie had been operating his private security firm, Bull's Eye Security Company, for three years without a licence. Other aspects of this case are being pursued jointly with FID.
* MOCA arrested Kareem Weeks, 21, for fleecing a United States Online Retail Shopping Network of several thousand US dollars worth of goods, including jewellery, clothes and household items over a three-month period. He was charged with obtaining goods by means of false pretence and he also being investigated for breaches of the Cyber Crimes Act.
* MOCA-led operation involving personnel from TCND and JDF seized 66 kg of cocaine and arrested three persons including a Guardsman security guard along the Mount Carey main road in St James on April 20, 2013. Intelligence suggests that the cocaine was part of a shipment that arrived recently from Colombia. Among the items seized were two vehicles including the one registered to Guardsman (which was conveying the cocaine) and one 9mm pistol, the property of Guardsman Group.
* Over the period, MOCA directed numerous anti-scam operations in Montego Bay and other areas of Jamaica, resulting in severe disruption of lottery scamming operations in the country.