One of the principal figures behind a so-called Jamaican lottery scam has been found guilty on several counts, becoming the first to be convicted in a massive FBI probe of the graft with deep Broward ties.
Sanjay Ashani Williams, a 25-year-old from Montego Bay, Jamaica, was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud or mail fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering, and 45 counts of wire fraud. He was tried in a federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota, because one of the main victims named in the case was scammed there.
At least 25 other alleged scammers are awaiting trials or finalization of plea deals, including four from Broward County. Many Jamaicans have been extradited from their home country, but arrests of Jamaican citizens have been made in Broward as well, including the May 2014 arrest of Deon-ville Antonio O'Hara, a DJ who goes by the stage name of “ZJ Wah Wa,” who was scooped up by police in Hollywood after his indictment for telemarketing fraud conspiracy.
O'Hara pleaded guilty but has yet to be sentenced.
Victims have also been local. Lois Bronson, an 84-year-old retired schoolteacher from Hallandale Beach, testified in Williams' trial and said she lost nearly $100,000 in the scam.
In a typical account of how the scam works, Bronson testified that she got a call informing her that she had just won $1 million and a Mercedes. But to cash in, she had to write a few checks. She did at first, but when it was becoming too expensive to win $1 million, she resisted paying more – and then the caller on the other end threatened her.
"One of them said, 'I know exactly where you live,'" the sweet old lady said in court. "I said, 'I'm not liking this conversation at all.'"
Williams' role in the whole scam was as a facilitator. According to the FBI, he sold lists with names, numbers, and personal information, also known as “sucka lists,” to the people doing the actual calling. These lists were primarily of senior citizens such as Bronson.
The scammers were also known to impersonate what the FBI describes as “trusted institutions,” such as the FBI, Bank of America, the IRS, and state government agencies. They'd also sometimes try to make the scam look more convincing with fake letterheads, official-looking email addresses, and telephone numbers, and they'd even send bogus checks.
Apparently, the Jamaican lottery scam has been lucrative for some folks. On the island nation, where unemployment is high – hovering around 15 percent – news reports say scammers have achieved cult status among some people.
Fitz Bailey, a superintendent of the Organised Crime Investigation Division, told the Jamaican Observer: "[The scammers] literally burn money. There is a competition to see who can burn the most money. They use Champagne to wash their cars. We know of one scammer who owns seven posh houses."