LOTTO scamming offences, old and new, dominate the case list for the Westmoreland Circuit Court which opened Monday, June 6.
The illegal activity is followed by sexual offences, a grim picture for the parish which has, since the start of this year, been rocked by deadly gang feuds.
However, the fact that more cases against lotto scammers are now before the court suggests that the police are having some success in tackling the practice that National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang said is raking in some US$1 billion annually.
As it stands, this Easter Term there are a total 298 cases listed for mention of which 193 have been traversed [from former sittings]. The other 105 are new cases.
On the traversed list there are 64 murder cases compared to 68 cases of possession of identity information, which is an offence under the Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act, more commonly referred to as the lottery scamming law.
According to Senior Superintendent of Police Wayne Josephs, the commanding officer for the Westmoreland Division, 42 of the remaining 61 cases on the traversed list are sexual offence matters with the remaining 19 split between wounding, assault, causing death by dangerous driving, and other offences.
In respect of the 105 new cases, 10 are for murder, 86 are lotto scam offences for mention, while the remaining nine new matters include eight sexual offence cases and one for arson.
According to the constabulary’s serious crimes report for Westmoreland for January 1 to June 16, 2022, and the comparative period in 2021, there were a total 46 murders in that space last year this time, compared to 68 murders for the same period this year — a 47.8 per cent increase.
In respect of shootings, there were 58 for the January to June 16 period in 2021 compared to 60 for the comparative period this year — a 3.4 per cent increase.
Cases of people being injured for the 2021 period under review totalled 54, compared to 58 this year so far.
For sexual offences there were 14 reported for that period in 2021, and 17 so far this year — a 21.4 per cent increase.
There were, however, decreases in robberies and break-ins — 32 per cent and 41.9 per cent, respectively.
The general age group of the offenders who are “mostly males” range from 20 to 35 years, the senior superintendent told the Jamaica Observer.
“As it relates to the cases of breaches of the Law Reform Act on the list now, I think it’s a combination of two things. I think, yes, there are more young people getting involved in this scamming activity and, on the other hand, the police have stepped up their effort in trying to make an impact on lottery scamming activities, so the police are making more cases,” Josephs said.
Additionally, the police, at the directive of the high command, have been “on a drive to target the lottery scammers” in a coordinated way across the parishes where it is seen.
“A lot of the youngsters are getting involved in this kind of activity because they see their counterparts making money, driving high-end cars, and ‘flossing’ at entertainment events and so on, so it is attracting them, and they have now gotten so socialised with getting this quick money that even if the powers that be were to provide 100 per cent jobs now, a lot of these youngsters will not be interested because the money that they would have to wait on for a weekly, fortnightly, or monthly salary would not pique their interest, because that money is what they spend buying one drink at an event. So we have a very serious problem,” Josephs told the Sunday Observer.
He said the fight was harder because “a lot of the parents and relatives, some of whom are supposed to be decent and well-thinking persons, have now become accepting of this kind of activity”.
“Some of them don’t see it as a crime. But this lottery scamming activity is also fuelling the guns that come in and, by extension, the gun crimes. A lot of persons have now been accepting of it because they are benefiting in some way; because their son, or grandson, or nephew added on something to their house, or they are getting a chance to drive a car and they are enjoying the lifestyle and they have now put the moral values aside. But it is also helping to finance gangs and a lot of innocent lives have been impacted by this kind of activity,” Senior Superintendent Josephs stated.
He said the police have no intention of relenting and have added social intervention to their law enforcement efforts by partnering with a number of entities to reach the youngsters.
“The Community Safety and Security Branch of the JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force] does a lot of outreach programmes, and we partner with entities like the Victim Services Division and the Child Protection and Family Services Agency along with the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA),” Josephs said.
“We try to steer the youngsters in the right direction and show them a better side to lottery scamming. It may not be as flashy, but we try to show them how they can make better of their lives,” Josephs added.
Earlier this month, head of the Area One Police Division, Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifford Chambers, said gang activities and, to a lesser extent, domestic violence are fuelling a spike in murders and shootings in Westmoreland.
He noted that there are seven areas in the parish — King Valley, Egypt Gardens, Ricketts River, Morgan’s Bridge, Savanna-la-Mar, Grange Hill, and Frome — that are considered to be hotspots for gang-related activity.
There have been confrontations between the Dalling Street/Dexter Street gang and the King’s Valley/Ants Posse gang, said Chambers, who also noted that the elite police squad has encountered some intra-gang conflict that is causing some tit-for-tat murders.
Despite the climbing numbers, the police have been having some level of success, with Chambers crediting “good intelligence” for the arrest of 10 suspected members of the King Valley gang in May.
Lotto scamming has long posed a problem for the Jamaican police who, over the years, have been working with US law enforcement agencies to arrest and, in some cases, extradite scammers to America for prosecution.
In 2012, then Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey told the Jamaica Observer that lotto scammers were living high on the hog, earning up to $10 million a week and using champagne to wash their cars in a boastful lifestyle reflecting the ease with which they come by their ill-gotten gains.
“They literally burn money. There is a competition to see who can burn the most money. They use champagne to wash their cars. We know of one scammer who owns seven posh houses,” Bailey said at the time.
He had also disclosed his team’s seizure of a Lexus motor car that was in the possession of an 18-year-old.
The scammers, police say, are generally young and tech-savvy.
On June 1, 2022, in his contribution to the sectoral debate in Parliament, Minister Chang said the island had seen a sharp 53 per cent rise in murders in the four western parishes of Police Area One — St James, Trelawny, Westmoreland, and Hanover — resulting from the fight over US$1 billion ($150 billion) in lottery scamming money flowing into that section of the country annually.
He said the lotto scamming, more formally referred to as ‘advance fee fraud’, is fuelling a rise in murders in deep rural areas as the changing criminal landscape presents a new headache for the Government and law enforcement agencies.
Chang described the development as “an emerging, major crisis” and warned that Jamaica’s democracy was at risk.
“The challenge with advance fee fraud is that it is a white-collar job,” Chang said and shared that local law enforcement agencies are working with their international partners, particularly in North America, where the victims are being extorted.
“We have made progress, but hundreds of people are involved,” he said, while pointing out that dozens of scammers have been apprehended and some extradited.