BISMARCK, N.D. — A federal judge in North Dakota on Wednesday sentenced a Rhode Island woman to four years in prison for funneling lottery scam money between the U.S. and Jamaica, prompting a prosecutor to question the ruling.
Melinda Bulgin, 29, of Providence, received a sentence that was 10 years less than prosecutors had sought.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said Bulgin's role in the scam was not on the level of others who received lesser sentences than the 14 years requested by prosecutors, The Bismarck Tribune reported.
"I'm giving you a break. I'm giving you a second chance," Hovland told Bulgin. "I don't consider you to be a monster."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan O'Konek called Bulgin's sentence "unreasonable" and "not a just punishment." The government has two weeks to appeal.
"She was not just a participant but arguably a major player in this," O'Konek said, adding that "she ruined people's lives."
A jury in September convicted Bulgin of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering in a scam that authorities say bilked more than 100 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $6 million. It's believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in the U.S. The scam involved 31 defendants, including 14 Jamaican nationals, most of whom accepted plea deals with the government.
The scam's alleged kingpin, Lavrick Willocks, was among those who accepted a plea deal. Prosecutors say he ran the scam out of a Jamaica mansion where he lived with his mother. Hovland in October sentenced Willocks to six years, crediting him with cooperating.
Authorities say Bulgin funneled scam proceeds via cheap flights she got through her airline job. She eventually was caught at a Jamaican airport in 2015.
Authorities identified victims in 31 states, including at least one person who committed suicide. The case has been prosecuted in North Dakota because that's where the initial identified victim lives.
Defense attorney Chad McCabe requested a sentence for Bulgin of time served, about 10 months, but said outside the courtroom he was "satisfied" with the four-year sentence. He, Bulgin, and Bulgin's parents, who testified during the hearing, characterized her as a good person who got involved with a boyfriend in Jamaica who led her astray.
"I was twisted. I thought I was in love," Bulgin told the judge, adding that she did not personally profit from the scam.
At one point Bulgin turned and apologized to Edna Schmeets, a Harvey, North Dakota, resident in her 80s who was scammed out of about $400,000. Schmeets' case launched the investigation.
Outside the courtroom, Schmeets said she is not concerned about the length of Bulgin's prison sentence — she just wants her money back. So far she has received only $287 in restitution.
"It's just like a slap in the face," she said.
The judge ordered Bulgin to pay about $333,000 in restitution.
Somehow that Judge got paid off to give such a small time in jail!
Judge Daniel Hovland was bought and paid for under the table...
Only concern I have is with restitution. She won't pay back $333K. She can't be convicted on that charge anymore, so if she doesn't pay up the Judge can't add to the sentence. Hey legal minds out there, could the Judge have stipulated something like 'If you fail to pay up, you get the full 10 years?'
No doubt she doesn't work for that airline anymore dragging their name through the mud. Good for them.
Will she walk the straight and narrow or prove him wrong?
This story will educate Seniors about not trusting strangers. Especially over the phone.
You have not won if you are required to pay first before receiving your winnings.
Life savings gone.
The Feds are earning their pay when they catch and prosecute.
Seniors should pay a little bit now and hire wealth managers.
At one point Bulgin turned and apologized to Edna Schmeets, a Harvey, North Dakota, resident in her 80s who was scammed out of about $400,000. Schmeets' case launched the investigation. And more than 100 mostly elderly Americans.
Bet a lot more than just 100 people are gladly being scammed by PCH and they've been doing it for years. I can sort of understand how someone could be scammed out of a few hundred, maybe a grand, but $400,000, but then say they are "not concerned about the length of Bulgin's prison sentence — she just wants her money back"?
These very gullible people really believe they won a contest they never entered, so much so they spend thousands trying to collect their imaginary winnings. Makes one wonder if some people are that gullible, how did they manage to get and to hold onto large amounts of money in the first place.
Will educate Music? These scams are as old as time friend. Cut off one head of the snake, another rises in it's place. As for asking Seniors to hire wealth managers, that's asking a lot. These folks don't want a middle man, a person telling them what to do, how to spend their money, they want " direct access" to the person telling them they have won Millions of dollars.After all, a con is only a phone call away. What gets me is the children of these seniors who are robbed, why is it always that they find out too late? If they cared so much about the financial welfare of their parents, why are they not approaching the upper management of banks to be put on alert when substantial amounts of money is beimg withdrawn from their parents accounts? The shoe has to drop before they spring into action.
Just an opinion, as always. If you going to return fire, use blanks!
And what about the bank tellers that must look at the accounts when large funds are being withdrawn. Why don't they call their manager after noticing a series of suspicious withdrawals?
I'm trying to figure out how the "feds are earning their pay" by demanding a 14 year prison term for Bulgin when Schmeets said she just wants her money back. How is Bulgin going to earn $332,713 to pay back Schmeets while in prison?
Melinda Belgin is now a felon. Her record will be looked at every time she applies for a job. Her job outlook seems grim. I hope she finds Jesus in prison. Christ is her Hope now.
Bet Edna Schmeets hopes Belgin gets a great job so she can recoup a portion of the $400,000 she was scammed out of.
Melinda may not want to return to the workforce as we know it music*. She may pick up where she left off, fleecing people for all they have. Think of a criminal that serves time, is said to be rehabilitated & released. Many of these ex-cons are not content with bagging groceries, they want back in " where the action is."
Btw- there was another Melinda years ago that claimed to the sole winner of a massive jackpot-sent the press on a merry go round, worked at Mc Donalds if memory serves me correct. Had a weird cap that sat oddly on her head, nowhere close to a Freddy Kruger's, but weird nonetheless. Does anyone out there recall that female?
The name of the woman who claimed to be a "massive jackpot" winner was named Mirlande.
Thank You Artist77.