Politics

March 15, 2013

Collins, Nelson press for action against Jamaican scam artists

The two senators urge the attorney general to extradite scam leaders for prosecution in the U.S.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida continued pressing federal law enforcement officials Friday to aggressively pursue scam artists in Jamaica who are targeting senior citizens in this country.

click image to enlarge

Two daughters of Jamaican lottery scam victims – Kim Nichols of Hermon, Me.,left, and Sonia Ellis of Canada – as well as Chief Deputy Sheriff William King of the York County Sheriff’s Office prepare to testify on Wednesday to the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Kevin Miller / Staff Writer

click image to enlarge

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, talks with Hermon resident Kim Nichols, left, on Thursday before a hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging about lottery scams targeting senior citizens. Nichols’ father, who lives in New Hampshire, lost $85,000 to the Jamaica-based scammers.

U.S. Senate Photographic Studio

Nelson and Collins, respectively the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Friday reiterating their call to extradite leaders of the "Jamaican lottery scam" for prosecution in the United States. The senators held a hearing on the issue Wednesday.

Federal officials estimate that Jamaican lottery scam artists steal $300 million a year, primarily from senior citizens in the United States, including seniors in Maine.

"We believe extradition of a select group of these criminals would show all Jamaican fraudsters that they are not untouchable," the senators wrote. "The chilling effect of such an action could have an enormous impact in reducing how enticing these scams are to current and potential Jamaican scammers."

The senators also expressed concern about a "lack of attention and coordination at the federal law enforcement level."

"Therefore, we request a confidential briefing from your agency to learn more about the state of these ongoing investigations and hear about your progress in coordinating with other law enforcement entities to bring these criminals to justice," they wrote.

During Wednesday's hearing, Kim Nichols of Maine recounted her frustration in trying to get help from federal agencies to stop a scam that eventually stole $85,000 from her father.

Chief Deputy William King of the York County Sheriff's Office testified about encountering a "culture of indifference" at the federal level as he has tried to investigate and prosecute the scams.

Some Mainers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the scams, which start with a call informing them that they have won a lottery, a car or another sweepstakes. Through relentless and sometimes threatening calls, victims are convinced to send money repeatedly to cover "taxes" or "fees."

The recent media and congressional focus on the scams appears to have caught the attention of Jamaican authorities.

On Friday, the Jamaican Senate was expected to take up a bill to strengthen penalties for scam artists and assist prosecutions on fraud charges.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

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