By David McFadden
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
KINGSTON, Jamaica _ A Jamaican man was extradited Thursday from the Caribbean island to Florida on charges that he was involved in a lottery scam ring that defrauded elderly Americans out of their retirement savings.
The U.S. Justice Department identified the suspected swindler as Damion Bryan Barrett of the northern parish of St. James, where many of Jamaica‘s lottery scams have been based over the years. His indictment by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale charged him with 37 counts of wire fraud.
The 28-year-old is the first lottery scam suspect to be extradited by Jamaica to the United States. He was arrested last month on suspicion of inducing elderly U.S. victims to send thousands of dollars in phoney fees to claim winnings from a bogus lottery.
“These criminal telemarking scams heartlessly target the elderly in the United States, at times stealing their life savings,” said Alysa Erichs, special agent in charge of Homeland Security investigations in Miami.
The transnational telemarketing fraud first became entrenched in the island’s underworld about a decade ago.
Jamaican scammers using fake identities proved adept at cajoling often elderly targets to send money in hopes of claiming supposed lottery winnings. And once targets balked at wiring more money, the fraudsters would extort more payments by threatening to burn down their homes or rape their grandchildren.
In recent years, authorities have said at least 30,000 calls were made daily to the U.S. from Jamaica attempting to defraud people. The most conservative estimates put the yearly take by the lottery scammers at $300 million, but some U.S. officials say the total was much higher.
Jamaica has cracked down in recent years with new laws that target such frauds, identity theft and dishonest use of technology for accessing financial accounts.
Barrett is due to appear in a Fort Lauderdale court Friday. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 30 years.
Last year, a Florida federal court sentenced Barrett’s alleged accomplice to five years in prison and ordered him to pay nearly $100,000 in restitution for his involvement in a lottery scam. Co-defendant Oneike Barnett pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
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