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Last defendant in a large Jamaican lottery scam sentenced

BISMARCK, N. D. – A federal jury in North Dakota on Friday sentenced a Rhode Island woman, to help scam older Americans out of millions of dollars, the hedging of a large-scale Jamaican lottery scam case that the authorities in the investigation and prosecution of six years.

Members of the jury found Melinda Bulgin, 28, guilty of 15 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering, after 3 1/2 hours of deliberations over two days. Lawyer Kevin Chapman said he likely will appeal.

The Providence woman was the last of the 27 defendants. The others all pleaded guilty or were convicted and sentenced earlier in the scam, which authorities say bilked at least 90, especially for older Americans more than $5.7 million. Authorities identified victims in at least five countries: North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Texas and Arizona.

The authorities say that scammers called victims of the fake lottery win, to persuade them to send advance fees or taxes to receive the supposed profit, then keep the money without paying anything to the victims.

“If they (the elderly) were vulnerable, Melinda Bulgin and other co-conspirators preyed on them,” Assistant district Attorney of the V. S., Jonathan O’Konek told jurors.

The case is probably the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in AMERICAN courts. It began in September 2011, when the then-82-year-old Femke Schmeets, Harvey, North Dakota, was swindled of about $400,000. During an emotional testimony Thursday, she described the cleaning of her life savings, borrow money from family and borrowing from the bank, so they can continue with the sending of the checks.

“After that I was broke,” she said.

Bulgin was accused of collecting money and funneling it between the united states and Jamaica via cheap flights, she got through her job at an airline. She was eventually caught at a Jamaican airport in 2015 with almost $ 15,000 that she had not declared to customs officials.

That money came from Nancy Bauke, a 78-year-old widow in Tempe, Arizona, prosecutors said.

Bauke testified she was seduced by the scammers, even though she had worked as a financial advisor and taught financial planning classes. They said that they sent a total of $25,000 to Bulgin and “not received a penny” of the prize money.

Chapman told jurors that Bulgin identity can easily be used by other suspects in the scam, and that when they admitted to the authorities after her arrest in Jamaica, “she is a young woman, scared, in a foreign country.”

“We can’t rely on the evidence in this case,” he said.

The Federal Trade Commission estimates lottery scams can be a billion dollar per year industry in Jamaica. The investigation into this scam started in 2012 and has the FBI, the U. S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Department of Justice.

“I’m happy for the victims, that we have some justice to them,” Assistant district Attorney of the V. S. Clare Hochhalter said outside the courtroom.

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Follow Blake Nicholson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/NicholsonBlake

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