Jamaica police investigating an international sweepstakes and lottery scam, were last night interrogating a 19-year-old St James woman to determine how she came to have $1 million in cash in her possession.
After news of the police operation spread, the question on the lips of Montegonians was where did such a young woman get so much money.
The woman, Sheneika Headley gave her address as Westgate Hills, an upscale residential district near this north coast tourist resort city. The police were also attempting to freeze an account belonging to Headley which contains another large but undisclosed sum of money.
She was charged with unlawful possession of property and hauled before the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate Court, where she was offered bail in the sum of $250,000 by Judge Winsome Henry.
Headley was among 30 persons nabbed in a massive sweep of 13 locations in Hanover and St James, staged by a combined seven police units backed by the army just before dawn Thursday.
Thursday's operation was carried out by cops from Operation Kingfish, the Fraud Squad, Financial Investigation Division, Special Anti-Crime Task Force, Mobile Reserve, Organized Crime Division, and Area One, assisted by the Jamaica Defense Force.
Nine motor vehicles, over $1 million in cash, a number of computers, cellular phones, and what Inspector Steve Brown, the communications officer for Operation Kingfish described as "interesting documents that will lead us very far in the investigations", were seized.
Explaining how the multi-million dollar sweepstakes and lottery scam worked, police said tricksters obtain the names and addresses of telemarketing customers who purchase sweepstakes tickets online. The racketeers then contact these customers by telephone and inform them that they have won the lottery. These persons would then be told to pay processing fees of up to US$5,000.
Headley and several other alleged players in the racket will be transferred to Kingston today to be further interrogated by the Fraud Squad in the case of suspected fraud.
Meanwhile, Minister of Industry, Technology, Energy and Commerce, Phillip Paulwell, who met in Montego Bay with top-ranking members of the Area One police and ICT industry officials who had expressed concern over the scam three weeks ago, congratulated the police on the operation.
"I want to congratulate the police and I pledge the industry's full support in bringing those guilty to justice," Minister Paulwell told the Observer in a telephone interview afterward.
Paulwell noted that in light of the scam, investors in the IT sector were threatening to pull their operations out of Montego Bay.
"Cabinet recently approved measures to be taken to Parliament in the form of Cyber Crime Law that will ensure that such persons, in future, will be receive severe criminal sanctions," he said.