Jury to continue deliberating in Jamaican lottery scam case

AP News
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Posted: May 05, 2015 6:24 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal jury in North Dakota did not reach a decision Tuesday in the case of a man accused in a Jamaican lottery scam that authorities say cost victims around the country millions of dollars.

Sanjay Williams, 25, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court in Bismarck. Jurors received the case Tuesday and deliberated 3½ hours before the judge dismissed them for the day. They will return Wednesday morning.

Attorneys gave closing arguments Tuesday morning after about a week of testimony. Williams faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors said the case came to light four years ago when Edna Schmeets, 86, of Harvey, North Dakota, received a call from a man who told her she had won $19 million and a new car. She just needed to pay taxes and fees. The process dragged out until the widow's savings were wiped out, a sum of about $300,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter told jurors that the subsequent investigation identified more than 70 people — mostly elderly and vulnerable citizens — who were scammed out of more than $5.2 million.

About a dozen of the victims testified during the trial in Bismarck, by video and in person.

Hochhalter called those victims "heroes who helped shed a light" on the scam, despite being "ashamed and embarrassed" about being duped out of money.

The victims "came from all walks of life and from across the country" and ranged from a woman who owned three successful businesses to a World War II fighter pilot, he said.

Some of the victims "as little as weeks ago were still sending money," Hochhalter said.

Defense attorney Charlie Stock told jurors in his closing argument that the case isn't about sympathy, but about evidence.

Investigators described Williams primarily as a "lead broker" who bought and sold "sucker lists" of potential victims. He is the only one of 32 defendants to opt for trial. Eight defendants are awaiting extradition from Jamaica.

Stock said during closing arguments and at trial that so many people involved in the scheme used fake names and IDs that it's difficult to believe most of the witnesses, one of whom he described as a "heroin addict and thief." Stock said investigators did not look into whether his client was himself a victim of identity theft. He pointed to one incident in which Williams' email was hacked.

Hochhalter told jurors that investigators reviewed more than 500,000 documents, including 50,000 emails — many of which linked the scam to Williams.