North Dakota Jury Convicts Last Defendant in Jamaican Lottery Scam Case

Tuesday September 18th 2018

A Rhode Island woman has been found guilty of 15 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering following a trial over her involvement in a large-scale Jamaican lottery scam. She was the last of 27 defendants in a case which had reportedly seen at least 90 U.S citizens lose a total of more than $5.7 million. All the defendants have now either been convicted or pleaded guilty.

Melinda Bulgin from Providence was accused of working with other members of the scheme and funnelling money between the U.S and Jamaica through her job with an airline. The scammers were located in the Caribbean nation and would contact U.S. residents over the phone, deliberately targeting people over the age of 55.

Victims Were Left Broke

The strategy was to tell their victim that they had won large lottery prizes, but would have to pay taxes or fees before they could receive the full cash amount. The scammers would keep the money they were sent without paying anything to their victims, and they were able to con some people out of as much as $100,000 in this way.

The investigation has been going on for six years and is thought to be the first major Jamaican lottery scam to be tried on U.S. soil. The inquiry began in 2012 after Edna Schmeets of Harvey in North Dakota lost around $40,000 the previous September. She testified in court last week to describe how, at the age of 82, she had been left broke after spending all her life savings and borrowing heavily to send checks to the fraudsters.

Many of the defendants were extradited to face trial, while Bulgin was eventually arrested in 2015 after being caught at a Jamaican airport with nearly $15,000 that she hadn’t declared to customs officials. The guilty verdict was returned by a federal jury in North Dakota on Friday. “Im happy for the victims, that we can bring some justice to them,” said Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter outside the courtroom. Defence attorney Kevin Chapman said an appeal was likely.

Mastermind Yet To Be Sentenced

Lavrick Willocks is said to be the mastermind of the scheme and is set to be sentenced on October 15th. He faces up to 40 years in prison, although he could be given a reduced sentence of just 10 years after cooperating with prosecutors.

The FBI, the US Postal Inspection and the US Justice Department have all played a part in this investigation and are determined to crack down on lottery scams, which have become widespread across the world and are especially prevalent in Jamaica. The Federal Trade Commission has estimated that lottery scams could be a billion-dollar-a-year industry in Jamaica.

How To Avoid Lottery Scams

Although lottery scams have become increasingly rife, you can keep yourself safe by staying vigilant and remembering a few key points. You will never be asked to pay fees or taxes by a legitimate lottery before you can receive a prize, and you should never give out any personal or financial information over the phone or by email or letter.

The only way to win a lottery prize is to buy a ticket and then match the winning numbers. You then need to present your ticket to a lottery official before you can claim your prize. It is not possible to win any game that you have not entered and you will never be selected at random as a winner on the basis of your phone number or email address.

There are various types of lottery scam - including social media, email and telephone - and scammers are becoming more sophisticated with their techniques, but if you look out for the warning signs you can prepare yourself. You should contact the relevant authorities if you are ever targeted by scammers. Go to the Lottery Scams page to find out more information.

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