KINGSTON — United States lawmakers yesterday pushed for lottery scammers to be extradited to that country to stand trial for defrauding Americans of millions of dollars, and chided Jamaica for not having acted sooner to address the problem during a damaging congressional hearing on the matter.
“For far too long Jamaican authorities turned a blind eye to this fraud, which was illegally bringing an estimated $300 million annually to their economy,” US Senator Susan Collins told the hearing of the US Senate Special Committee on Ageing in Washington.
Collins, who is the top-ranking Republican on the committee, said she was deeply troubled by what she portrayed as a lack of urgency from both the US and Jamaican authorities in tackling the issue.
Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and chairman of the committee, also made a similar call.
“We want to see them extradited to the US. That will have a chilling effect on a number of these people who think they are bulletproof,” he said.
Kim Nichols of Hermon, whose father sent $85,000 to scammers, and Chief Deputy William King of the York County Sheriff’s Office, who has led efforts to fight the scam in Maine, gave damning testimony to the hearing.
They painted a picture of Jamaican scammers who call mainly seniors and inform them that they won a sweepstakes prize, the lottery or a new car. After repeated calls, the scammers convince their victims to pay an initial fee to cover taxes or costs. They then continue to extort money from the victims, often with harassing and threatening calls several times per day.
Efforts to stem fraud
Yesterday, in Kingston, the Jamaica Government said its written submission to the congressional hearing was not a last-minute effort at damage control from recent negative media reports, but a continuation of its efforts to stem the fraud.
Information Minister Senator Sandrea Falconer said this administration had began work in the US long before Security Minister Peter Bunting’s visit to Washington on Sunday to meet with the lawmakers, ahead of delivering the written submission to the hearing.
“We had persons working on the ground, including setting up a website to show persons in the US and give them tips on how not to be conned by these fraudsters,” Falconer told journalists at the weekly Jamaica House press briefing held at the Office of the Prime Minister.
She was responding to a question about the release issued on Tuesday by Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, who charged that government ministers Bunting and Julian Robinson’s trip to the US was a last-minute, ad-hoc response to the airing of a report by American journalist Dan Rather on the lottery scam.
Holness also said that the last-minute trip to Washington was evidence of a weak and negligent Government which fails or refuses to plan. (Observer)