BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A U.S. trial for 10 defendants in a multimillion-dollar Jamaican lottery scam case has been delayed until early next year.
U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland rescheduled the trial that was to begin July 17 in federal court in North Dakota to Jan. 22, 2018, after one of the suspects' attorneys said he had a conflict next month and also needed more time to prepare.
Federal prosecutors didn't object to the delay.
In May, prosecutors had asked Hovland to schedule trial without waiting for other defendants to be caught or extradited from Jamaica, saying victims deserve justice in a case that already has dragged on for more than five years. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter said Friday that there is a mountain of evidence for the defendants to review, and that the court system is busy.
"Having a certain trial date for a multi-week, multi-defendant trial is a challenge for all," Hochhalter said. "We're glad to be moving forward."
U.S. Attorney Chris Myers anticipates the trial might last as long as three weeks.
A total of 15 people are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering in the scam that authorities said bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than $5.7 million. The suspects could face decades in prison if convicted.
Nine of the 10 suspects facing trial are Jamaicans who pleaded not guilty earlier this year. They include Lavrick Willocks, who authorities allege was the mastermind. The tenth suspect is a U.S. citizen who pleaded not guilty in August 2015.
Two of the remaining five suspects are in custody in Jamaica awaiting extradition, and three remain fugitives.
Authorities have dubbed the case "Operation Hard Copy," a reference to lists of prospective victims' contact information used by scammers. North Dakota authorities began investigating in 2012, starting with the case of a Harvey woman who lost her life savings of more than $300,000 to the scam. The probe involves the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs.
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