Livern Barrett, Gleaner Writer
The Jamaican police have revealed that just over $40 million in cash and electronics equipment were confiscated last year from persons believed to be involved in the lottery scam, but conceded that this has done very little to break the back of the criminal enterprise.
Statistics compiled by the Lottery Scam Task Force show that since February last year, the police confiscated cash totalling J$11 million, US$195,000 (J$18.1 million) and CDN$265 (J$24,380), along with 133 vehicles - some of them high-end cars and SUVs - valued at millions of dollars, and 130 laptop and desktop computers worth more than $11 million.
Among the vehicles seized were a BMW X6 and several BMW motor cars, Toyota Prados, Lexus motor cars and Honda CR-Vs.
While conceding that "a few of the vehicles" have been returned to their owners, head of the task force, Superintendent of Police Leon Clunis, said all the cash seized remains in the possession of the state.
However, he noted that because the investigations are still ongoing, the cash has been placed in interest-bearing accounts as is required under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
"We are nowhere near to dismantling it (the scam), but we have significantly disrupted it," declared Clunis.
One clear sign of this, according to Clunis, is that the scammers, who once paraded around St James and other western parishes in luxury vehicles and with their flashy lifestyle, have now gone into hiding.
"Yes, a few of them are still involved, and yes, a few of them are still making money, but a number of them who haven't run away, we have taken away their stuff and they can't operate any more," added Clunis.
A breakdown of the data shows that the task force conducted 31 operations since last February and arrested 85 people.
However, it noted that only 21 of those persons arrested were charged with "lottery scam-related offences". The others were charged with "other offences".
Jamaica does not have a specific legislation that outlaws the lottery scam, which has been blamed for an increase in murders across several western parishes. Police statistics show that in the last two years, a total of 488 homicides were reported in the western parishes of St James, Hanover and Westmoreland.
Despite the high number of motor vehicles seized, the statistics also show that only three have been forfeited to the state over the 11-month period. However, Clunis said that number will increase soon.
"There are many, many more that are going through a process that should not take much longer," he disclosed.
Clunis reiterated that the task force was still hampered by the absence of legislation that would help the police deal effectively with persons believed to be involved in the scam.
"A number of persons would have been charged if we had those legislation, but we don't have them, so these persons are still on the road," he said.
"When we get those legislation, that is when we are going to take it (enforcement) up to the level where it should be," he warned.