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Jury deliberations begin for man charged in Jamaican lottery scam

Published:Wednesday | May 6, 2015 | 5:00 AM

A federal jury in North Dakota on Tuesday started deciding the fate of a man accused in a Jamaican lottery scam that authorities say cost victims around the country millions of dollars.

Attorneys gave closing arguments on Tuesday morning in US District Court in Bismarck in the case of 25-year-old Sanjay Williams, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, after about a week of testimony. He is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. He faces up to 40 years in prison.

Prosecutors said the case came to light four years ago when Edna Schmeets, 86, of Harvey, North Dakota, received a call from a man who told her she had won US$19 million and a new car. She just needed to pay taxes and fees. The process dragged out until the widow's savings were wiped out, a sum of about US$300,000.

Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter told jurors that the subsequent investigation identified more than 70 people - mostly elderly and vulnerable citizens - were scammed out of more than US$5.2 million.

About a dozen of the victims testified during the trial in Bismarck by video and in person.

Hochhalter called those victims "heroes who helped shed a light" on the scam, despite being "ashamed and embarrassed" about being duped out of money.

The victims "came from all walks of life and from across the country" and ranged from a woman who owned three successful businesses to a World War II fighter pilot, he said.

Some of the victims "as little as weeks ago were still sending money," Hochhalter said.

Defense attorney Charlie Stock said in his closing argument to jurors that the case isn't about sympathy, but about evidence.

Investigators described Williams primarily as a "lead broker" who bought and sold "sucker lists" of potential victims. He is the only one of 32 defendants to opt for trial. Eight defendants are awaiting extradition from Jamaica.

Stock said during closing arguments and at trial that so many people involved in the scheme used fake names and IDs that it is difficult to believe that most of the witnesses, one of whom he described as a "heroin addict and thief". Stock said investigators did not look into whether his client was himself a victim of identity theft. He pointed to one incident in which Williams' email was hacked.

Hochhalter told jurors that investigators reviewed more than 500,000 documents, including 50,000 emails - many of which linked the scam to Williams.

- AP