BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal judge in North Dakota has cleared the way to try the 10 defendants who have already been arraigned in a multimillion-dollar Jamaican lottery scam case instead of waiting until the other five suspects have been taken into U.S. custody.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter asked U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland to allow the government to proceed to trial without waiting for the remaining defendants to be caught or extradited from Jamaica, saying the victims deserve justice in a case that has already dragged on for more than five years.
"Elderly victims (and) witnesses continue to die awaiting conclusion of this case," he said. "Twelve victims are known to have died during the pendency of this matter."
Hovland approved the request Wednesday, saying it is "in the best interest of the public and all of the defendants."
A trial date hasn't been set.
The five suspects who are not in U.S. custody will be separated from the case of others who have been extradited from the Caribbean nation to North Dakota, where the case originated. Four of the five are still fugitives. The fifth is in custody in Jamaica awaiting extradition.
Among those awaiting trial is Lavrick Willocks, who authorities allege was the mastermind of the scam that bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $5.7 million. He pleaded not guilty in January to 66 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.
Eight other suspects facing the same charges were extradited in late April and pleaded not guilty shortly after. Another suspect who is a U.S. citizen pleaded not guilty in August 2015.
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