Monday 16 September, 2019

Jamaican lottery scam kingpin's property forfeited; will aid victims

Lavrick Willocks (PHOTO: AP)

Lavrick Willocks (PHOTO: AP)

Cash and jewelry seized from a Jamaican man accused of masterminding a large lottery scam in the US will be liquidated and the proceeds doled out to victims.

They order came from a US federal judge and will be a welcome step towards getting at least some restitution for victims.

The property was seized from Lavrick Willocks when he was arrested in Jamaica in November 2016. It includes the equivalent of nearly US$12,000 and jewelry of unknown worth including gold chains, gold rings, gold and silver bracelets including one with a diamond, and Rolex watches.

Authorities say at least 90 mostly elderly Americans lost a total of more than US$5.7 million to the scam operated out of a Kingston, Jamaica, mansion where Willocks lived with his mother.

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.

Willocks pleaded guilty a year ago to conspiracy in a deal with prosecutors and awaits sentencing. He faces up to 40 years in prison, though prosecutors will recommend about 10 years because he cooperated.

Sentencing likely will be later this year.

Willocks in April agreed to forfeit the property to the US government for restitution as Jamaican authorities prepared to take the cash. About a month later, the Jamaican government dropped its plans and US District Judge Daniel Hovland on July 9 signed an order of forfeiture to the US government.

The property isn't likely to end up in US hands for several months, according to Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter. Willock's plea deal and others in the case call for restitution to the victims, though it isn't clear how realistic that is.

"Every effort is made to locate forfeitable assets, but it's a real challenge when dealing with foreign defendants," Hochhalter said.

The scam began to unravel when a North Dakota woman lost her life savings of more than US$300,000 in 2011. Federal authorities began investigating in 2012.

The case that resulted is believed to be the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in US courts, with federal conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges filed against 27 people.

All have pleaded guilty, agreed to do so or been convicted, except a Rhode Island woman accused of funneling scam proceeds between the US and Jamaica through her airline job, and a man who was a fugitive until being captured by a Jamaican counter-terrorism team in January.

Melinda Bulgin and Mario Hines are scheduled for trial in September.

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