James L. Santelle, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, announced that O’Brain J. Lynch (age 28) of Jamaica was sentenced to 5 years in prison for his role in a Jamaican lottery scam. Lynch is believed to be the first Jamaican national charged in the United States for this type of fraud.
A Jamaican Lottery Scheme is a form of mass-marketing fraud committed via the internet, telemarketing, or mass mailings. Jamaican criminal organizations contact victims and identify themselves as lawyers, government officials, law enforcement agents, or lottery company officials. The potential victims are led to believe they won an international multi-million dollar lottery. The fraudulent telemarketers then inform the victims that in order to receive their winnings the victim needs to pay an advance fee. This fee is usually described as a tax, insurance payment, or customs duty that must be paid to release the winnings. The victims are instructed to send the funds via mail or wire transfer.
The scammers routinely involve victims to help facilitate the laundering of financial transactions by receiving and withdrawing funds from prepaid cards and receiving and sending wire transfers. In an attempt to conceal and layer the proceeds from the lottery scams, the scammers direct victims to send funds, knowingly and unknowingly, to other victims and associates of the scammers within the United States. These victims and co-conspirators then transfer the proceeds of this fraud to the scammers in Jamaica by wire transfers. The Jamaican criminal organizations have modified the lottery scam into other variations of telemarketing schemes to include redirecting individuals Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits, direct deposit, automatic debit, re-routing schemes and other identity theft schemes.
According to documents filed in court, in March 2012, the SSA learned that a social security recipient, from Glendale, Wisconsin, was receiving social security benefits in the name of other recipients and cashing in these benefits. Special Agents from the SSA - Office of Inspector General (OIG) discovered the recipient was sending this money to Jamaica because he believed he had won “The Jamaican Lottery.” He said he was contacted by an official from Global International who informed him that he won $2.5 million and two (2) Mercedes Benz vehicles in a sweepstakes. He was then advised that in order for him to collect the money and the cars, he had to pay taxes, customs duty, and other fees. He initially sent his own money to Jamaica, and, once he had depleted his own assets, he was directed, by telephone, to accept checks, Direct Express cards, and other cash value cards in the names of other people (who were also victims), cash them out and then send the money to Jamaica. As a result, numerous victims did not receive their social security benefits, and instead they were mailed to Jamaica. Investigators from SSA discovered that hundreds of victims throughout the United States were losing their social security benefits and their life savings either because they believed that they had won “The Jamaican Lottery” or because, as part of another telemarketing scheme, they revealed enough information about themselves that allowed the thieves to fraudulently divert their money.
SSA -OIG, the Postal Inspection Service (USPS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) joined forces, and were able to identify O’Brain Lynch, as being one of the principal individuals involved in this scheme in Jamaica. HSI reported that Lynch is a resident of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and formerly was a lawful permanent resident of the United States. HSI learned that Lynch and his girlfriend were coming to the United States for a vacation. Lynch was arrested in February 2013.
Numerous records showed that Lynch and his co-actors were involved in a massive telemarketing scheme involving hundreds of victims. They would identify vulnerable victims, and change the recipients’ addresses to a third party. They then had the third party send the money to Jamaica or to others in the United States, who would then wire the money to Jamaica. At the direction of Lynch (and other working with him) numerous victims received SSA Direct Express, netSpend, Green Dot, and other types of cash value cards in the names of other victims. In addition, items were ordered in the United States by Lynch and his co-actors and were paid for using money fraudulently obtained through the scheme. These items, including jewelry, cell phones, a computer tablet, various electronics and other items were received by victims or other co-actors in the United States, and then sent to Jamaica where they could not be traced or recouped. Many of these items have now been linked directly to Lynch.
United States Attorney James L. Santelle commented: "The significant, five-year prison term that O'Brain Lynch will serve reflects, first, the calculated, pernicious nature and scope of his victimization of more than 50 people, many of whom suffered substantial losses of social security benefits monies on which they relied to live. Second, it responds with clarity and force to Lynch's criminal purpose and a-social intent in orchestrating a sophisticated scheme of fraudulent representations, false promises, and deceptive international financial transaction mechanisms. The United States Department of Justice--along with its highly professional and vigilant investigative partners in the Social Security Administration, Office of the Inspector General, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service, Homeland Security Investigations--has been and will remain highly focused on identifying, stopping, and prosecuting the perpetrators of these kinds of malevolent scams; those who take advantage of innocent people here in Eastern Wisconsin and throughout our nation through schemes like this will be charged and called to account for their crimes."
Santelle continued: "Our successful investigation and effective prosecution of this case should also serve an educational purpose to all of the good, law-abiding citizens we serve and protect: Offers and solicitations through the regular mail, telemarketing, or the internet that purport to confirm winnings or the recovery of large amounts of money--especially but not limited to those with international trappings--are virtually always fraudulent, especially when they contemplate the transfers or payments of monies to "recover" lottery or similar monetary awards. The best response to these types of notifications and requests is no response at all--aside from prompt reporting of them to local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities for follow-up action, domestic or international. In that connection, I commend not only the attorney and professional staff of my office for this important result but also the extremely timely, tenacious, and exhaustive work of the agents of the Social Security Administration, the Postal Inspection Service, and Homeland Security Investigations--all of whom are, in partnership and collaboration, responsible for shutting down Lynch's scam and bringing him to justice."
Special Agent in Charge William Cotter of the Social Security Administration, Office of Inspector General said, "The arrest and conviction of OBrain Lynch is a significant breakthrough in our investigation into this Jamaican Lottery Scheme, which has redirected millions of dollars in senior citizens' retirement benefits to thieves' accounts opened for the purpose of stealing this money. Lynch was a major organizer of this scam and he personally received or was responsible for defrauding hundreds of thousands of dollars from very vulnerable senior citizens. The Inspector General's Office for the Social Security Administration has worked very closely in this case with Homeland Security Investigations and the Postal Inspection Service and we will continue our collaborative effort to arrest and prosecute additional people involved with this scheme."
"Jamaican lottery scammers like Mr. Lynch think nothing of fleecing older Americans of large amounts of money, often leaving their victims destitute and ashamed,” said HSI Chicago Special Agent in Charge Gary Hartwig. "In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, HSI will continue to use our unique cross-border authorities to combat this devastating crime and bring those responsible to justice."
"Americans have lost millions of dollars to criminals from countries around the world in foreign lottery scams, said Pete Zegarac, Inspector in Charge, Chicago Division U.S. Postal Inspection Service. When one family member is harmed by a foreign lottery scam, the impact is felt by all. Losses can be monumental, sometimes entire life savings are wiped out. The United States Postal Inspection Service will continue to partner with the Inspector General's Office for the Social Security Administration and Homeland Security Investigations, as well as other law enforcement agencies, regulatory agencies and the financial industry to combat cross border fraud targeting U.S. consumers, particularly the elderly. The Postal Inspection Service will continue to aggressively investigate these crimes and arrest people like Lynch, who ruthlessly exploit American consumers."
This matter was investigated by special agents from the Social Security Administration - Office of Inspector General, the Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Karine Moreno Taxman.