JOLT to tackle lotto schemes

Published: Thursday | May 28, 2009

Andrew Wildes, Gleaner Writer

Commissioner of Police Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin (right) and Scott Hottfield of Immigration Custom Enforcement speak to members of the media during a press conference held yesterday at the Hilton Kingston hotel in New Kingston. - Rudolph Brown/Chief Photographer

Jamaican authorities have joined forces with United States law-enforcement agencies in an effort to crush the multibillion-dollar lottery scam industry now proliferating in sections of the Jamaican landscape with incredibly deleterious effects.

The Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing (JOLT) task force, which has been in the pipeline since January 2008, was finally launched by the heads of the collaborating agencies at the Hilton Kingston hotel in New Kingston yesterday.

The task force, which has already commenced operations in Jamaica, is comprised of the Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) division of the United States Homeland Security Department, the United States Embassy in Jamaica and individuals from a number of national authorities, including the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Customs, Passport and Immigration departments, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Montego Bay Resident Magistrate's Court and the Financial Investigation Division of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

ICE has already sent a special team of agents to Jamaica, experienced in both financial and fraud investigations, which will remain in Jamaica for a year at the expense of ICE. The ICE agents and analysts will be working alongside Jamaican authorities "to facilitate the identification, investigation and prosecution of criminal organisations involved in telemarketing crimes".

There will also be a major thrust towards the recovery and return of victims' monies.

The task force is already claiming some success.

"Since its inception a few months ago, JOLT has already conducted 23 arrests and has repatriated more than US$100,000 to victims," said James Heg, charge d'affaires at the United States Embassy in Kingston.

That, however, is only the tip of the iceberg.

According to Scott Hatfield, ICE unit chief for the Caribbean and Canada, the number of US citizens being victimised by Jamaican telemarketing scams has so substantially increased that the US had to take action.

5,000 complaints

The point was further bolstered by Steve Baker, head of the Midwest Region of the US Federal Trade Commission, the main consumer protection agency in the US.

Baker noted that, just last year alone, his department received some 5,000 complaints about Jamaica, an extremely distressing figure in light of the fact that only an estimated eight per cent of victims ever complain.

Police Commissioner Hardley Lewin, in thanking the US officials, declared his great support for the task force, which he said he hopes will combat what is "a very big problem" in Jamaica.

"What we have embarked upon is a joint operation to tackle a joint problem that affects both citizens of the United States and citizens of Jamaica," Lewin said.

"We have associated, in the last five years or so, roughly 200 homicides or so connected to the lotto scam when deals go bad, or other activities. Not only that, but we have seen the corrupting influence on our own law-enforcement officers."

Jamaicans are being directed to report to the police any phone call they receive that they suspect might have been from a lottery scam artist.

"If somebody calls you and says you have won $25,000, tell them to send $24,500 and take their $500 out of it," Lewin also advised.