Jamaican and United States law enforcement authorities are hunting six Jamaicans accused of bilking approximately 80 elderly Americans out of more than US$5.5 million in what they describe as “an international lottery fraud scheme” that ran for just over six years.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrest notices named the six as Lavrick Willocks, 27; Mario Hines, 23; Akil Gray, 26; Gregory Gooden, 34; Tristan Fisher, 29; and Gareth Billings, 37.
They are among 26 Jamaicans indicted in the US District Court of North Dakota on 60 counts of money laundering conspiracy. Of the number, eight are in custody and awaiting extradition, a senior US Embassy official told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.
“The Fugitive Apprehension Unit of the JCF (Jamaica Constabulary Force) and the US Marshals are working together with the FBI to flush these guys out,” the US Embassy official, who cannot be identified because of security concerns, told the Sunday Observer.
“Our understanding is that all six are still on the island, but we’re not sure if all six are still alive,” the official said.
The US official said that Willocks, who is charged with 48 counts of wire fraud, 16 counts of mail fraud and other fraud, is believed to be one of the leaders of the “criminal organisation” which came to the attention of US authorities when a 93-year-old grandmother in North Dakota, over the course of several months, was defrauded of over US$300,000.
“In the end, the organisation was threatening her life, her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren,” the official said, adding that the law enforcement agencies believe that the members of the organisation are “armed and dangerous”.
According to the FBI, from January 2009 to July 2015, Willocks and his co-conspirators purchased lists consisting of names, telephone numbers, and personal information of potential victims in the US from other co-conspirators who compiled and sold the lists.
“Operating from Jamaica, Willocks and his co-conspirators contacted individuals on the lists by telephone, e-mail, or mail, and falsely told the victims they had won a large sweepstakes prize, such as US$3.5 million and a new car. Willocks and his co-conspirators repeatedly instructed the victims to pay non-existent taxes, insurance, and other fees in order to collect their purported winnings,” the FBI stated in one of the arrest notices shown to the Sunday Observer. The notices seek the extradition of the men after their apprehension.
“The victims of the lottery scheme and the banks from or to which they wired and mailed funds were located in North Dakota, South Dakota, New York, New Hampshire, South Carolina, California, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere in the US,” the document explained.
The scammers, the notice said, “specifically targeted victims over the age of 55 years old” to whom they sent communications “purported to be from a genuine sweepstakes company, from banks, from US Federal agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and from companies allegedly investigating and recovering lottery scam losses”.
According to the document, “the communications were designed to hide the true nature of the conspiracy and convince the victims of the authenticity of the purported winnings and fees. Willocks and his co-conspirators used voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) as well as ‘magicJack’ technology when calling victims, to make communications by telephone appear as if the calls originated in the US”.
The notice stated that the mail fraud counts involve 16 occasions between October 3, 2011 and December 31, 2013 on which “Willocks and his co-conspirators either, through fraudulent representations, caused victims to mail cashier’s cheques to middlemen, or on which middlemen mailed funds received from victims pursuant to the fraud, totalling over US$360,300, using the US postal service and private and commercial interstate carriers”.
The notice relating to Willocks states that he has the following tattoos: “an image of Jesus with a cross below the image on his right upper arm; the words ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ with a banner with the words ‘Still I rise’ on his right shoulder and chest area; the words ‘Keep praying until something happens’ on the inner side of his left upper arm; an angel with head bowed and wings extended upward on the outer area of his left arm; two human faces on the back of his upper left arm in the triceps area, with one face appearing to laugh and the other appearing to cry with the words ‘Laugh Now’ above the smiling face and the words ‘Cry Later’ below the crying face; and the words ‘Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come through’ and ‘LW 4.05.1989’, and two US$100 bills tattooed on his stomach.”
Billings, Fisher, Gooden, Gray and Hines are each also charged with 48 counts of wire fraud, and 16 counts of mail fraud and other fraud.
Last November, 26-year-old Jamaican lotto scammer Sanjay Williams was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a federal judge in Bismarck, North Dakota.
After the sentence was handed down, Chris Ashe — deputy office director of Caribbean affairs in the US State Department — warned, during a conference call with Jamaican journalists and other US officials, that scammers will be hunted down.
“We have an entire team in North Dakota committed to bringing people to justice, and… when we find them — when we can identify them and bring them to justice — if they are found guilty they will definitely be subjected to the type of sentences as Mr Williams [and], depending on their level of culpability, even greater sentences in some cases,” Ashe said.