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Rags to riches to rags again

Published:Sunday | May 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Businesses hurting as cops squish life out of lotto scam

Adrian Frater, News Editor

Western Bureau:Worry is now the dominant emotion gripping Montego Bay, St James, as the business, commercial and social sectors begin to contemplate a future without the infamous lotto scam, which has been a major financial pillar in the city in recent years.

"In principle, I don't support scamming, especially the spin-off into the buying of guns," one hardware operator, who asked not to be identified, told The Sunday Gleaner.

However, the businessman said it would be quite disingenuous of him if he did not admit that, from a business perspective, Montego Bay has benefited tremendously from the scam scourge, which left many communities awash with cash between 2006 and 2011.

"A lot of the money generated by the scam go into the construction sector; so naturally, the hardware business benefits greatly," the businessman said.

"Without them (scammers), I rather suspect that the recent boom in construction will come to an abrupt end," said the businessman.

Uncertain future

Like the construction industry, car dealerships in western Jamaica are facing an uncertain future as in recent times, scammers have been their best clients, especially in regards to the sale of high-end vehicles.

"These guys don't complain about prices," said one car dealer.

"If these guys come and see a car that they like, they simply pay for it and leave - no financing arrangements to be worked out ... . Like a snap of a finger, it is over and done," declared the car dealer.

During the recent police crackdown against suspected lotto scammers in western Jamaica, the Superintendent Leon Clunie-led Lotto Scam Task Force seized more than 50 cars, including several high-priced brands such as Lexus, BMW, Skyline, Lincoln Navigator and Prado.

In trying to put a value on the high-end vehicles seized by the police, a car dealer told The Sunday Gleaner that with vehicles like BMW, Lexus and Lincoln Navigator costing more than $10 million each, the Government stands to benefit tremendously if the alleged scammers are convicted.

"Some of the high-end vehicles are worth more than $10 million," said the car dealer.

"If the Government seizes 30 to 40 such vehicles, you are looking at about half a billion dollars in total value."

While the police are hell-bent on ensuring that the scammers don't benefit from the proceeds of the millions scammed from their American victims, the Government could become the big winners at the end of the day.

"If the persons who own these vehicles are found guilty of acquiring them through criminal means, these vehicles will go to the State under the Forfeiture of Assets Act," said Superintendent Clunie.

"I am sure some (the cars) will go towards beefing up the police's fleet, but the more expensive ones will be auctioned off and proceeds go to the Government."

Like the hardware dealers and car dealers, several electronic technicians in Montego Bay are already singing the blues as the businesses begin to feel the pinch from the fall-out in the crackdown against the free-spending scammers.

Love for gadgets

"Scammers love auto gadgets ... . They want hi-tech sound systems, drop-down LCD television, and television monitor embedded in their headrest," a technician told The Sunday Gleaner.

"In addition, they want the latest crystal headlamps, among other catchy accessories. On a given day, you can make an easy $70,000 to $80,000 off setting up a car for a scammer," the technician said.

However, the sector that appears to have been hardest hit is the party circuit, where scammers have been holding pride of place in recent years as both promoters and big spenders.

On the Montego Bay nightclub circuit, which is also quite popular with tourists, scammers are considered legitimate high rollers as they spend with impunity.

"Hennessey is the drink of choice among scammers. When they come to the club, it is nothing for them to blow $80,000 to a $100,000 in a night on just Hennessey and Red Bull," a nightclub bartender told The Sunday Gleaner.

"At the club, everybody loves the scammers ... the owner, the bartenders and, especially, the dancers. In addition to their heavy spending, they are also quite generous and usually tip heavily," continued the bartender. "They know how to make the place nice."

For the scammers, who have been trying their hands at promoting, putting on some of the most glamorous parties in western Jamaica, their wings have also been clipped.

According to Senior Superintendent Egbert Parkins, the new commander for the St James Police, no person who fits the profile of a scammer will be granted permission to stage events.

While the business sector seems somewhat passive in its stance against the scammers, especially on account of the dollar windfall which has been rolling their way, other citizens are totally intolerant of them.

According to a prominent St James educator, the scammers are like the medieval dragon in Greek mythology, which sometimes seems graceful but are very destructive.

"A number of my good students have abandoned the opportunity for higher education and are now into scamming," the educator said. "One of them, who I had high hopes for, was brutally murdered and his body buried in the Barnett River."

The educator said she hopes government plans to develop worthwhile endeavours to absorb those youngsters who were gravitating towards the scam because, without such an option, the future could be dicey for all and sundry.