MORENO… said that a few weeks ago an American woman committed suicide because she lost her life’s savings to lottery scammers.

The illegal activity has robbed many elderly Americans of millions of dollars and has been blamed for an upsurge in murders in St James. In March this year, Jamaica’s National Security Minister Peter Bunting reported that more than 500 persons had been arrested and billions of dollars in assets seized under the country’s anti-lottery scamming law since it was passed in 2013.

Some of the cases have already resulted in convictions, and at least one accused lottery scammer — 28- year-old Damion Barnett of Hendon, Norwood, in St James — was extradited to the United States to stand trial.

Last month, two Jamaicans — 25- year-old Sanjay Williams of Montego Bay, and 34-year-old Fabian Winston Parkinson of Margate and Homestead in Florida, were found guilty in US courts on charges relating to lottery scamming. Parkinson was sentenced to just under five years in prison, while Williams could face up to 40 years.

About a dozen of Williams’ victims testified by video and in person during his trial in Bismarck, North Dakota. According to prosecutors, the case came to light four years ago when 86-year-old widow Edna Schmeets, of Harvey, North Dakota, received a call from a man who told her she had won US$19 million and a new car.

 

All that she needed to pay were taxes and fees. But the process dragged out until Schmeets’s savings of about US$300,000 were wiped out. Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter told jurors that the investigation identified more than 70 people — mostly elderly and vulnerable — who were scammed out of more than US$5.2 million.

Hochhalter described the victims who testified as “heroes who helped shed light” on the scam, despite being “ashamed and embarrassed” about being tricked out of their money.

Last week, the US Embassy in Kingston told the Observer that the digital video testimony system — each valued at US$70,000 — is being funded by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

“This system will enable the court to receive live testimony from witnesses being sent from a remote location — for example, from another building, city, or even country,” the US Embassy explained. “This capability will help to protect the security and identity of vulnerable witnesses or victims, and thereby encourage their testimony.

The image of the witness can be blacked out as necessary by the judge, and the witness’s voice can be disguised,” the embassy added. “The system will also allow prisoners to testify without leaving the prison, and [allow] victims of lottery scams to testify from the United States without travelling to Jamaica.”

Installation of the other two systems, the embassy said, will be determined by discussions between INL, the Supreme Court, and the Ministry of Justice.