BISMARCK, N. D. – A Rhode Island woman accused of funneling lottery scam money between the united states and Jamaica by her airline work, goes on trial in federal court in North Dakota this week. She is the last of the 27 defendants in the case, which began seven years ago this month. Here is a look at the case and the upcoming trial of Melinda Bulgin, who is expected to be up to 10 days.
WHY IS THIS CASE A BIG DEAL?
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that the lottery scams can be a billion dollar per year industry in Jamaica. This is probably the first large-scale Jamaican lottery scam tried in AMERICAN courts and the making of a template for future investigations, Assistant district Attorney of the V. S. Clare Hochhalter said.
The U. S. attorney’s office expects that a lot more research in both the united states and Jamaica, although Hochhalter believes that it will be a joint effort of authorities, citizens and the right of officials to make a serious dent in the Jamaican lottery scam-industry.
HOW DO THESE SCAMMERS WORK?
Scammers call the victims of fake lottery win, to persuade them to send upfront costs to receive the supposed profit, then keep the money without paying anything to the victims.
In the scam, which launched this case, a woman was told she had won $19 million and a new car, and only need to pay taxes and fees for the collection of the prices.
HOW WAS THIS CASE PROSECUTED?
In September 2011, 86-year-old Femke Schmeets, Harvey, North Dakota, paid “fees” and lost her life savings of more than $300,000. The authorities opened in 2012. The probe involved the FBI, the U. S. Postal Inspection Service, and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
The authorities that in the case the Operation “Hard Copy”, a reference to the lists of potential victims’ contact information is used by scammers. They say that the investigation determined the advanced scam bilked at least 90, especially for older Americans more than $5.7 million. Court documents list of victims in North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, and Texas, with the illegal scam activities are also alleged in New York, New Hampshire, California and Florida.
Prosecutors eventually filed conspiracy, fraud and money laundering against 27 people. All have pleaded guilty, or was convicted, except Bulgin, of Providence, Rhode Island.
WHAT WILL BE ITS TEST FOCUS ON?
Prosecutors say Bulgin worked as a customer service representative for Delta Air Lines and made use of the fact that she was able to travel “almost free” to funnel money.
They call her “not a small player” in the scam and say that they have a past that includes getting banned from the Pace University in New York in 2013 for “false and unfair behaviour”, that forgery, fraud, and unlawfully obtaining from the federal student loans. Lawyer Kevin Chapman says that it is not relevant.
In 2015, the Jamaican airport authorities said they found nearly $15,000 in Bulgin the handbag that she had not declared to customs officials. She was arrested three months later, in Rhode Island. She was questioned in both countries.
Chapman is of the opinion that the authorities mishandled the interrogation and violated Bulgin rights.
Bulgin initially faced 66 counts of conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors last month sought to the dismissal of 51 of the graves, saying it would allow the United States to be effective, the attention and the resources.” U. S. District Judge Daniel Hovland on Tuesday approved the request. He will monitor its process in Bismarck.
Prosecutors say they will carry the evidence, including money transfer records, bank statements and e-mails, and have also a testimony of an FBI special agent who has assessed hundreds of thousands of e-mails, documents, and other documents.
Schmeets is the government on the long witness list, such as Lavrick Willocks, who the authorities said the mastermind behind the scam.
WILL THIS TRIAL WRAP UP OF THE CASE?
There is still a future meeting of the note — Willocks to be sentenced Oct. 15.
Willocks pleaded guilty in July 2017 and conspiracy in a deal with the prosecutors. He faces up to 40 years in prison, although prosecutors recommend 10 years because he has worked.
WILL THE VICTIMS EVER GET THEIR MONEY BACK?
Those who have been convicted in the case were ordered to pay restitution, but it is not known how large the chance is that will actually happen.
Hovland in July also ordered that the money and jewelry confiscated from Willocks, be liquidated and the proceeds distributed to the victims.
The property includes the equivalent of nearly $12,000 in U.S. currency and jewelry with unknown worth including gold chains, gold rings, gold and silver bracelets, including one with a diamond, and Rolex watches. Hochhalter said authorities are other efforts for finding forfeitable assets, but it is a challenge.
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