Witness says Jamaican lottery fraud scammers threatened her
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A retired school teacher from Florida said Tuesday that she lost most of a $100,000 inheritance in a Jamaican lottery fraud and was threatened by scammers who never produced her prize of $1 million and a Mercedes.
Lois Bronson, 84, of Hallandale, Florida, testified in the trial of Sanjay Williams, 25, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, who’s accused of buying and selling lists of potential victims in a scheme that allegedly bilked dozens of mostly elderly people out of retirement money. Williams, who has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering, is the first person to go to trial.
The federal trial is being held in North Dakota because the first victim identified in the case is Edna Schmeets, an 86-year-old widow from Harvey. Schmeets on Monday quietly recounted how she drained her savings account to pay the scammers, who authorities say asked victims for more and more checks or wire transfers to cover taxes and fees for purported winnings.
On Tuesday, an animated Bronson testified that she spent all but $10,000 of the money her 104-year mother left her when she died before dipping into her retirement savings.
She also recalled becoming “very worried and agitated” when one of the callers threatened her.
“One of them said, ‘I know exactly where you live,’” she testified. “I said, ‘I’m not liking this conversation at all.’”
Prosecutors displayed a photo of Bronson sitting on her couch next to a stack of dozens of MoneyGram and Western Union receipts from her wire transfers. She testified that at one point she went to the bank and withdrew $10,000 in $100 bills she then stuffed into an envelope, placed into a brown bag with a snap on it and delivered personally to Shannon O’Connor at a Florida strip mall. O’Connor has pleaded guilty in the case.
Bronson reeled off the names of several people she talked with over the course of the scam and said she never heard of Sanjay Williams. She added that none of the people she talked with had Jamaican accents.
Most of Tuesday’s testimony involved FBI Special Agent Frank Gasper, who described how Williams built lists of potential victims, mostly elderly and vulnerable people, and sold them on websites with numerous domain names. The most valuable names, Gasper said, were the people who participated in sweepstakes or coupon offers. The going rate was $5.50 per name that was attached to a credit card or checking account, and $4.50 per name with no monetary information.
Stock is scheduled to cross-examine Gasper on Wednesday.
Williams verbally lashed out at Stock on a couple of occasions: when the lawyer failed to object to evidence and again when he told Stock, “Stop. Hold on. Hold on. You can’t say that.” After dismissing the jury for lunch, Hovland told Williams that jurors were watching him intently and that he should either whisper to Stock or jot down his thoughts.
“If you react and start speaking loudly, that doesn’t bode well for you,” Hovland said.