Editorial | The long arm of US justice
Lottery scammers are running scared, reports Sergeant Kevin Watson, head of the Anti-Lottery Scam Force.
"Persons are now afraid because they realise that this is getting quite risky. They are now worried about being caught," the sergeant told The Gleaner recently.
Since 2006, lottery scammers have operated in St James and other parts of western Jamaica with virtual impunity, and they have been sullying Jamaica's name internationally. Tales about the scheming ways of scammers have been told by various media outlets. The media have, over time, interviewed many of the elderly victims and even some of the scammers themselves.
These exposes were shocking on many levels, as they unravelled a web of corruption and collusion that contributed to robust commerce in western Jamaica. From the millions of dollars they bilked from elderly North Americans, scammers bought motor vehicles and motorcycles, built palatial homes and kept the economy abuzz. And perhaps of even greater significance was their ability to buy weapons and ammunition. Many people in western Jamaica can easily identify scammers by their lavish display of overnight wealth.
We cannot forget the mayhem the scam has caused in Jamaica, particularly in St James, Westmoreland and Hanover, where communities have suffered pain and criminals have threatened stability. More than 300 deaths have been linked to scamming; in some cases, entire families have been wiped out in related conflicts.
Yet efforts to bring the majority of scammers to justice have been more than a decade in the making. It has now taken the action of the United States Department of Justice reaching across the Caribbean waters to put these scammers on the defensive and drive them into hiding.
It is the extradition of an alleged mastermind and eight others, and the tightening of the net around others, some of whom are challenging extradition proceedings, which has created the impulse for the pushback of which Sergeant Watson speaks. As we have commented in this space previously, because of our broken justice system, we are forced to outsource responses to certain crimes.
This newspaper believes it is quite humiliating that our local authorities have been largely impotent in investigating and bringing to justice the people behind scamming, which are said to include police officers. But combating this crime can only succeed if there is a comprehensive and well-coordinated approach that seeks the help of communities and other stakeholders.
And, yes, we agree with those who pride judicial independence and who argue that Jamaica ought to find Jamaican solutions for its problems. The difference between us and the US is this: The United States will not sit idly by and allow its citizens to be preyed upon and exploited. They expect to prepare 300 more indictments in the near future. Jamaica, on the other hand, has demonstrated that it is weak in its attempt at reining in criminals, whether they are white-collar offenders who ravage people via Ponzi schemes, or they are heavily armed street gangs.
The extraditions and the pending requests offer important lessons scammers would be foolish to ignore. We see the reported cowering of scammers not so much as a victory for bilateral cooperation, but an indictment of the tepid response of the Jamaican justice system.