Tue | Oct 17, 2017

Attack on fraudsters: Cops to dig up old cases

Published:Monday | February 23, 2015 | 12:00 AM
ACP Devon Watkis, head of the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Branch.

Perpetrators of failed investment schemes could find themselves on the police radar, with the head of the newly formed Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) Investigation Branch indicating that some high-profile cold cases are to be resurrected.

Head of C-TOC, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Devon Watkis, told The Gleaner that the police are well aware of the "impact that the accumulated group of fraudsters can have on a small economy like Jamaica's".

"Historically, there were some schemes - we would have reports on those - and those are investigations that are still on the books. Somewhere down the line, we should be able to utilise the breaches of the laws that we have identified," Watkis told The Gleaner.

The country, having been hard hit by unregulated investment schemes in recent years, has been fighting to rid itself of lottery scammers who target old, vulnerable persons, mainly in the United States, in an advance-fee fraud.

The Caribbean Policy Research Institute has estimated that there were 21 unregulated financial institutions operating in Jamaica in 2008, and by 2010, the Financial Services Commission says the number grew to 63.

Similarly, lottery scamming has given Jamaica's image a black eye, according to National Security Minister Peter Bunting, who said that at its peak, lottery-scamming activities were hauling in an estimated US$300 million per year in illicit gains.

"Persons from time to time come up with their individual schemes. We have had to be grappling with the issue of lotto scamming and their fraudulent transactions. We have been combining with other agencies to deal with them. Lotto scamming has been a big issue. More than 800 persons have been arrested and we have had many convictions in relation to it," Watkis said.

The ACP said his team, which has the responsibility of probing financial crimes, is now evaluating scores of high-profile files, dating back to up to five years ago, with a view to effecting immediate arrests upon the conclusion of the evaluation.

SAFEGUARDING ECONOMY

"We intend to identify those persons who are involved and may be thinking that they are not being pursued. We are going to ensure that they don't get the opportunity to roam or continue with [these] activities because we recognise the impact that the accumulated group of fraudsters can have on a small economy like Jamaica," Watkis stated.

He said that this year, the police would be taking a more serious look at fraudulent activities, especially those of a cybercrime nature.

"We are evaluating a series of files and focusing on persons who are becoming more interesting in relation to these activities," Watkis said.

According to the ACP, just recently, a man affiliated to a big company was arrested for facilitating $10 million worth of fraudulent activities.

"We have been making many arrests in relation to robberies. Last week, we nabbed a man who was prominently involved in a series of robberies, targeting travel agencies. He pleaded guilty to several counts and will do a total of 22 years," Watkis said.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force crime statistics indicate that there has been an increase in the number of robberies reported since the start of the year, which now stands at 295, compared to 259 for the corresponding period last year. The divisions mostly affected are St Catherine South (30), St Andrew South (30), St Ann (28), and St James (23).

MANDATE

C-TOC was officially formed last month. The eight-unit branch was formed "to strengthen the country's security framework to effectively combat terrorism and organised crime in all forms".

"Our primary goal is to disrupt, degrade, and dismantle criminal organisations, terrorist networks, and other criminal operatives. This branch will set out to bring more focus to another critical area of society and that is protecting the economic side of the country," Watkis shared.

He added: "A part of our mandate is to ensure that we take the profits and the motivations out of criminality. Our mandate is to target the proceeds of crime. Also, in doing that, we recognise that while we focus on other elements of criminal investigation, we are indeed protecting the [economy]. This is achieved through our effective investigations of fraud, e-fraud, cybercrime, money-laundering, and all those issues to facilitate proceeds being transferred from the illegitimate to the legitimate."

The veteran crime fighter added: "In the midst of it all, we are auditing and reviewing cases that date back even five years to see if there are any outstanding organised crime, criminal, or grouping, that we have missed; and to see if they fall within the realm of those that can be considered wanted or persons of interest. What we want to ensure is that they don't have the opportunity to spread their criminal ways. And if there are unresolved matters and they are feeling comfortable, they shouldn't be because we are pursuing these."