Two J'cans extradited to US plead not guilty to lottery scamming

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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NORTH DAKOTA, United States (AP) — All of the 13 suspects arrested in what authorities believe is the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam to be prosecuted in the US have now entered pleas in federal court, with more than one-third of them admitting guilt or scheduled to do so.

Authorities allege the scam bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than US$5.7 million. Two suspects who had been awaiting extradition in Jamaica were taken to the US earlier this month and entered not guilty pleas in federal court in North Dakota.

Tristan Fisher and Akil Gray waived detention hearings Monday and will stay in custody pending trial.

Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter has asked US District Judge Daniel Hovland to add Fisher and Gray to the list of suspects scheduled for trial early next year. That list is steadily shrinking, however. Five of the 15 defendants in the case have now reached agreements with prosecutors calling for them to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy, with the government dropping 65 other counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.

The latest suspect to reach such a deal, O'Neil Brown, signed it September 7. He's to plead guilty October 3 in Bismarck.

Suspects Jason Jahalal and Xanu Morgan, who signed plea deals in late August, have had change-of-plea hearings scheduled for next week. Suspect Alrick McLeod, who signed his deal in late July, is scheduled to plead guilty October 16.

Lavrick Willocks, the man accused of being the kingpin, pleaded guilty in late July. His sentencing hasn't been scheduled. Prosecutors are recommending a sentence of about 10 years in prison.

Six suspects remain scheduled for trial in January, with Hovland not immediately ruling on whether to add Fisher and Gray to the list. The last two suspects remain fugitives.
Prosecutors started to build a case after a North Dakota woman lost her life savings of more than $300,000 in 2011.

Jamaican lottery scams have been happening for years, but prosecutors say no cases of this magnitude have been prosecuted. The suspects are accused of calling victims about bogus lottery winnings, persuading them to send advance fees to receive the purported winnings, then keeping the money without paying out anything to the victims.

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