Welcome Guest
Log In | Register )
You last visited September 18, 2020, 2:19 am
All times shown are
Eastern Time (GMT-5:00)

Last defendant in Jamaican lottery scam case going to trial

Sep 10, 2018, 10:36 pm

Share this news story on Facebook
Tweet this news story on Twitter
Scam AlertScam Alert: Last defendant in Jamaican lottery scam case going to trialRating:

BISMARCK, N.D. — A Rhode Island woman accused of funneling lottery scam money between the U.S. and Jamaica through her airline job goes on trial in federal court in North Dakota this week. She is the last of 27 defendants in the case that began seven years ago this month. Here's a look at the case and the upcoming trial of Melinda Bulgin, which is expected to last up to 10 days.

Why is this case a big deal?

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that lottery scams could be a billion-dollar-a-year industry in Jamaica. This is believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in U.S. courts, and it will create a template for future investigations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter said.

The U.S. attorney's office expects many more investigations in both the U.S. and Jamaica, though Hochhalter believes it will take a combined effort of governments, citizens and law officers to put a serious dent in the Jamaican lottery scam industry.

How do these scams work?

Scammers call victims about bogus lottery winnings, persuading them to send advance fees to receive the purported winnings, then keeping the money without paying anything to the victims.

In the scam that launched this case, a woman was told she had won $19 million and a new car, and needed only to pay taxes and fees to collect the prizes.

How did this case come to be prosecuted?

In September 2011, 86-year-old Edna Schmeets, of Harvey, North Dakota, paid those "fees" and lost her life savings of more than $300,000. Authorities opened a case in 2012. The probe involved the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Authorities dubbed the case "Operation Hard Copy," a reference to lists of prospective victims' contact information used by scammers. They say the investigation determined the sophisticated scam bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $5.7 million. Court documents list victims in North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina and Texas, with illegal scam-related activity also alleged in New York, New Hampshire, California and Florida.

Prosecutors eventually filed conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges against 27 people. All have pleaded guilty or been convicted except Bulgin, of Providence, Rhode Island.

What will her trial focus on?

Prosecutors say Bulgin worked as a customer service representative for Delta Air Lines and took advantage of the fact that she was able to travel "virtually free" to funnel money.

They call her "not a minor player" in the scam and say she has a past that includes getting expelled from Pace University in New York in 2013 for "untruthful and dishonest behavior" that included forgery, cheating and unlawfully obtaining federal student loans. Defense attorney Kevin Chapman says that isn't relevant.

In 2015, Jamaican airport authorities said they found nearly $15,000 in Bulgin's handbag that she hadn't declared to customs officials. She was arrested three months later in Rhode Island. She was interrogated in both countries.

Chapman maintains that the authorities mishandled the interrogations and violated Bulgin's rights.

Bulgin initially faced 66 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors late last month sought the dismissal of 51 of the counts, saying it would "allow the United States to effectively focus attention and resources." U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland on Tuesday approved the request. He'll oversee her trial in Bismarck.

Prosecutors say they'll introduce evidence including money transfer records, bank records and emails, and also have testimony from an FBI special agent who has reviewed hundreds of thousands of emails, documents and other records.

Schmeets is on the government's lengthy witness list, as is Lavrick Willocks, who authorities said masterminded the scam.

Will this trial wrap up the case?

There's another upcoming court hearing of note — Willocks is to be sentenced Oct. 15.

Willocks pleaded guilty in July 2017 to conspiracy in a deal with prosecutors. He faces up to 40 years in prison, though prosecutors will recommend about 10 years because he cooperated.

Will the victims ever get their money back?

Those who have been convicted in the case have been ordered to pay restitution, but it's not known how likely it is that will actually happen.

Hovland in July also ordered that cash and jewelry seized from Willocks be liquidated and the proceeds doled out to victims.

The property includes the equivalent of nearly $12,000 in U.S. currency and jewelry of unknown worth including gold chains, gold rings, gold and silver bracelets including one with a diamond, and Rolex watches. Hochhalter said authorities are making other efforts to locate forfeitable assets but it's a challenge.

AP

We'd love to see your comments here!  Register for a FREE membership — it takes just a few moments — and you'll be able to post comments here and on any of our forums. If you're already a member, you can Log In to post a comment.

7 comments. Last comment 2 years ago by Bleudog101.
Page 1 of 1
Avatar
Chasing $ Millions.
White Shores- California
United States
Member #136473
December 12, 2012
6312 Posts
Offline

l sure hope Edna Schmeets is still alive, to see the last of these swindlers face the justice system.

 * Voice of Reason *   

 

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it- George Bernard Shaw.

    music*'s avatar - DiscoBallGlowing
    USN United States Navy
    Fresno, California
    United States
    Member #157851
    August 2, 2014
    3959 Posts
    Offline

    The wheels of Justice grind slowly. 

     Thanks for the update. Somehow we have to warn our Senior Citizens. 

     "We are all in this together!" 

      CDanaT's avatar - Nolz june15.jpg
      Central TN
      United States
      Member #121189
      January 4, 2012
      4737 Posts
      Offline

      There will continue to be Edna's for years to come. People are fooled by money hucksters all the time and will continue to do so. The old adage about a fool and money soon parting will never fail. I personally like the one that says," The lottery is the art of extracting money from another persons pocket without resorting to violence".

      Integrity: There is just no substitute.

        Avatar
        Simpsonville
        United States
        Member #163184
        January 22, 2015
        2253 Posts
        Offline

        Dropping 51 charges against Bulgin.  Good, they're going for the gusto.

        Of course I don't know her, but she sounded like someone with a shady past, especially with that college fiasco.  Then she gets <snip>y in the scheme of things with this lottery scamming operation.  Don't think she'll be getting away with this, though her mindset is I beat the Feds before and will do it again.  Not this time sweetheart.

         

        This post has been automatically changed by the Lottery Post computer system to remove inappropriate content and/or spam.

          ressuccess's avatar - Lottery-043.jpg

          United States
          Member #93160
          June 23, 2010
          3141 Posts
          Offline

          A Rhode Island woman accused of funneling lottery scam money between the U.S. and Jamaica through her airline job goes on trial in federal court in North Dakota this week. She is the last of 27 defendants in the case that began seven years ago this month. Here's a look at the case and the upcoming trial of Melinda Bulgin, which is expected to last up to 10 days.

          Why is this case a big deal?

          The Federal Trade Commission estimates that lottery scams could be a billion-dollar-a-year industry in Jamaica. This is believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in U.S. courts, and it will create a template for future investigations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter said.

          The U.S. attorney's office expects many more investigations in both the U.S. and Jamaica, though Hochhalter believes it will take a combined effort of governments, citizens and law officers to put a serious dent in the Jamaican lottery scam industry.

          How do these scams work?

          Scammers call victims about bogus lottery winnings, persuading them to send advance fees to receive the purported winnings, then keeping the money without paying anything to the victims.

          In the scam that launched this case, a woman was told she had won $19 million and a new car, and needed only to pay taxes and fees to collect the prizes.

          How did this case come to be prosecuted?

          In September 2011, 86-year-old Edna Schmeets, of Harvey, North Dakota, paid those "fees" and lost her life savings of more than $300,000. Authorities opened a case in 2012. The probe involved the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

          Authorities dubbed the case "Operation Hard Copy," a reference to lists of prospective victims' contact information used by scammers. They say the investigation determined the sophisticated scam bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $5.7 million. Court documents list victims in North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina and Texas, with illegal scam-related activity also alleged in New York, New Hampshire, California and Florida.

          Prosecutors eventually filed conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges against 27 people. All have pleaded guilty or been convicted except Bulgin, of Providence, Rhode Island.

          What will her trial focus on?

          Prosecutors say Bulgin worked as a customer service representative for Delta Air Lines and took advantage of the fact that she was able to travel "virtually free" to funnel money.

          They call her "not a minor player" in the scam and say she has a past that includes getting expelled from Pace University in New York in 2013 for "untruthful and dishonest behavior" that included forgery, cheating and unlawfully obtaining federal student loans. Defense attorney Kevin Chapman says that isn't relevant.

          In 2015, Jamaican airport authorities said they found nearly $15,000 in Bulgin's handbag that she hadn't declared to customs officials. She was arrested three months later in Rhode Island. She was interrogated in both countries.

          Chapman maintains that the authorities mishandled the interrogations and violated Bulgin's rights.

          Bulgin initially faced 66 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors late last month sought the dismissal of 51 of the counts, saying it would "allow the United States to effectively focus attention and resources." U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland on Tuesday approved the request. He'll oversee her trial in Bismarck.

          Prosecutors say they'll introduce evidence including money transfer records, bank records and emails, and also have testimony from an FBI special agent who has reviewed hundreds of thousands of emails, documents and other records.

          Schmeets is on the government's lengthy witness list, as is Lavrick Willocks, who authorities said masterminded the scam.

          Will this trial wrap up the case?

          There's another upcoming court hearing of note — Willocks is to be sentenced Oct. 15.

          Willocks pleaded guilty in July 2017 to conspiracy in a deal with prosecutors. He faces up to 40 years in prison, though prosecutors will recommend about 10 years because he cooperated.

          Will the victims ever get their money back?

          Those who have been convicted in the case have been ordered to pay restitution, but it's not known how likely it is that will actually happen.

          Hovland in July also ordered that cash and jewelry seized from Willocks be liquidated and the proceeds doled out to victims.

          The property includes the equivalent of nearly $12,000 in U.S. currency and jewelry of unknown worth including gold chains, gold rings, gold and silver bracelets including one with a diamond, and Rolex watches. Hochhalter said authorities are making other efforts to locate forfeitable assets but it's a challenge.

          I think this woman will be guilty of stealing money!

          I hope that one $2 ticket is the only one that matches all 5 numbers plus the PB to win the largest PB jackpot in United States history of over $2 Billion Dollars! I hope that one $2 ticket is the only one that matches all 5 numbers plus the Mega Ball to win the largest Mega Millions jackpot in United States history of over $2 Billion Dollars!

            grwurston's avatar - Lottery-012.jpg
            Win Today.
            bel air maryland
            United States
            Member #90247
            April 24, 2010
            9393 Posts
            Offline

            Personally, I don't think the victims will get all their money back. Don't get me wrong, it would be great if they do, but I won't bet on it. Plus, they can convict a handful of scammers, but there will be others to take their place. There are plenty of unwitting victims waiting to be had, and plenty who are willing to do it. Sad, but true.  Frown

            "You can observe a lot just by watching." Yogi Berra, Hall of Fame baseball player.

            The numbers will tell you what numbers to play. Pay attention to the numbers.

              Avatar
              Simpsonville
              United States
              Member #163184
              January 22, 2015
              2253 Posts
              Offline

              I Agree!