Oneike Mickhale Barnett pleaded guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Ft. Lauderdale to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, the Justice Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Marshals Service announced. Barnett, a Jamaican citizen, was charged in connection with a lottery scheme based in Jamaica that fraudulently induced elderly victims in the U.S. to send Barnett and his co-conspirators thousands of dollars to cover fees for lottery winnings that victims had not won.
This prosecution is part of the Department of Justice’s effort, working with federal and local law enforcement, to combat fraudulent lottery schemes in Jamaica preying on American citizens. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Americans have lost tens of millions of dollars to fraudulent foreign lotteries and sweepstakes.
“All too often, what appears to be an unexpected lottery win is in fact a pernicious lottery scam, and one that cheats unsuspecting Americans out of their hard-earned savings,” said Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Department of Justice will continue our crackdown on those responsible for lottery schemes, particularly schemes that target the elderly.”
“As is evident by the prevalence of international lottery scams, fraudsters have no bounds,” said Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “While we will continue to combat fraud vigorously, and pursue and prosecute fraudsters using all legal means available to us, now more than ever, the public needs to be mindful of these schemes to avoid falling prey to them. As I have previously stated, so long as fraudsters continue to line their pockets with the hard earned money of our most vulnerable citizens, we will be there to prosecute them and bring them to justice.”
Barnett was arrested in Orlando, Fla., in August 2013 following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Ft. Lauderdale on Aug. 9, 2012. As part of his guilty plea, Barnett acknowledged that, had the case gone to trial, the U.S. would have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that, from 2008 through 2012, Barnett was a member of a conspiracy in which elderly victims were informed that they had won a large amount of money in a lottery and were induced to pay bogus fees in advance of receiving their purported lottery winnings. Barnett also acknowledged that the government would have proved that he knew the claims of lottery winnings were completely fabricated and that he, along with his co-conspirators, kept the victims’ money for their own benefit without paying any lottery winnings. Barnett also acknowledged that the government would have proved that, in an effort to convince the victims that the lottery winnings were real, the conspirators sent them written and electronic communications discussing their purported lottery winnings, which claimed to be from a genuine sweepstakes company and from federal agencies including the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Reserve. In fact, these communications were not from a genuine sweepstakes company or from agencies of the United States.
“The United States Postal Inspection Service is dedicated to investigating and uncovering lottery fraud from Jamaica and combating such fraud,” said U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge for the Miami Division Ronald Verrochio.
“Lottery fraud from Jamaica against American citizens is a very challenging problem, but as this case demonstrates, law enforcement in the U.S. working with our partners in Jamaica will continue to aggressively pursue such scammers even if they base their operations outside of the U.S.,” said Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Miami Alysa D. Erichs.
“Working with our law enforcement partners at the Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigations, the Marshals Service was pleased to be able to help catch this defendant and bring him to justice,” said Acting U.S. Marshal Neil DeSousa.
Assistant Attorney General Delery and U.S. Attorney Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Marshals Service and Jamaica’s Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bertha Mitrani and Consumer Protection Branch, Civil Division Assistant Director Jeffrey Steger and trial attorney Kathryn Drenning.