Sunday 13 October, 2019

Jamaican lotto scam suspect pleads not guilty in US

Lotto acam suspects at the Norman Manley International Airport, before being extradited to North Dakota in April.

Lotto acam suspects at the Norman Manley International Airport, before being extradited to North Dakota in April.

A suspect in a large-scale Jamaican lottery scam accused of bilking mostly elderly Americans out of millions of dollars has pleaded not guilty in a US federal court.

Gregory Gooden was arrested in Jamaica on June 6 and brought to the US last week to face charges of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. Court documents show he entered his not guilty plea on Tuesday in US District Court in North Dakota, where the case is being prosecuted.

Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to include Gooden with a group of suspects scheduled for trial in January.

Authorities say at least 90 mostly elderly Americans lost a total of more than US$5.7 million to the scam. It began to unravel when a woman in the North Dakota town of Harvey lost her life savings of more than US$300,000 in 2011. Federal authorities began investigating in 2012, and later charged 15 suspects.

The man who authorities say masterminded the scheme — Lavrick Willocks — pleaded guilty to conspiracy late last month in a deal with prosecutors. About the same time, another suspect, Alrick McLeod, reached a similar agreement with the government. McLeod is expected to change his April not guilty plea during a hearing in October.

Eight other suspects who also have been extradited to North Dakota and have pleaded not guilty are still scheduled for trial in January, though Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter has said plea deal talks are in the works with many of them.

Another suspect is still in Jamaica awaiting extradition, and three others remain fugitives.

Authorities have dubbed the case "Operation Hard Copy," a reference to lists of prospective victims' contact information used by scammers.

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