Ever received an email stating you’ve won the lottery and that you are required to pay a ‘transfer fee’ to receive the money? If you smelt a rat, then you are right in thinking that this is a scam. 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, and needed only to pay taxes and fees – this of course was the beginning of a Sanjay Williams’ scam. This process dragged on until the widowed Shmeets’ savings were obliterated which summed up to approximately $300,000. Shmeets was unfortunately not Sanjay Williams’ only victim – after a careful investigation was conducted, 70 others were discovered to be embezzled out of more than $5.2 million by this particular scam.
The evidence brought forward in the trial was damning – investigators reported their findings of more than 500,000 documents, including 50,000 emails which were linked to Williams.’ The trial itself was a bizarre affair, with Williams attempting to “manipulate the system with numerous courtroom stunts, displays and delays — most recently and dramatically, interrupting and disrupting a hearing, then faking a seizure.”
After a trial which spanned over four years, Williams, now 27, of Montego Bay Jamaica was convicted for his role in the lottery scam. He was consequently found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering and faces up to 40 years in prison. Even though he was not alone in this, Williams was allegedly the ‘lead broker’ who bought and sold the ‘sucker lists’ of potential victims. 32 others were also involved in trial and a dozen others await extradition but it was Williams who was the first Jamaican who was convicted of being involved in the lottery scam.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter commented on the matter saying that she hopes that this would make a difference and that it sends a message to all the perpetrators of this crime. The victims usually fit the same profile – elderly and vulnerable – but there have been a few exceptions which include businesspeople and accomplished pilots. “This case involves a unique kind of victimization,” reported Assistant US Attorney Nick Chase. “It is an assault of victims’ trust and dreams, in addition to their pocket books.
Short of a violent physical attack, it is difficult to imagine how Sanjay Williams could more thoroughly devastate and traumatize people.” Schmeets and other victims are in agreement with this saying, “It’s hard to think you could fall for this stuff… I don’t know how they get you, but they do. It’s almost like they hypnotize you.” Another victim said, “I come from a time when your word was your word and when somebody tells me I won millions of dollars, I believe them.”
“We have been fighting this monster called lottery scams for three years and this is a significant step for both the Jamaican and U.S. governments,” said Kevin Watson, a Jamaican agent who assisted in founding a lottery scam task force in late 2012. According to Watson, the lottery scamming industry collects more than $30 million annually despite the fact that a law was passed in 2013 which led to approximately 700 arrests and a 90 percent conviction rate of scammers.
U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland’s offered a deal, wherein Williams was offered a ‘significantly lesser sentence’ if he agreed to work together with federal investigations surrounding other lottery scams. ‘Obviously, you have some knowledge of the Jamaican lottery scam,’ said Hovland to the convicted Sanjay Williams.