A Jamaican citizen charged in connection with the operation of a fraudulent lottery was arrested Tuesday in Orlando, Fla., following his indictment by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Aug. 9, 2012, the Justice Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Marshals Service announced today. Oneike Mickhale Barnett was arrested based on charges that he and his co-conspirators ran a lottery scam in Jamaica that fraudulently induced elderly victims in the United States to send them thousands of dollars to cover fees for lottery winnings that victims had not in fact won. The indictment unsealed with Barnett’s arrest forms part of the government’s crackdown on fraudulent lottery scams based in Jamaica.
Beginning in October 2008, Barnett and his co-conspirators are alleged to have contacted victims in the U.S., announced that the victims had won cash and prizes and persuaded the victims to send them thousands of dollars in fees to release the money. The victims never received cash or prizes. The defendant and his co-conspirators allegedly made calls from Jamaica using Voice Over Internet Protocol technology that allowed them to use a telephone number with a U.S. area code. According to the indictment, Barnett convinced victims to send money to middlemen in South Florida, who forwarded the money to Jamaica.
“Lottery scams that target older Americans, such as the one alleged here, are the most pernicious kind of fraud – often swindling seniors out of their life savings,” said Stuart F. Delery, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “The Justice Department will continue to combat these schemes and bring those responsible to justice.”
“The alleged lottery scheme in this case is most vile because it targeted the elderly, one of the most vulnerable members in our society,” said Wifredo Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “While the scam was based in Jamaica, it targeted victims in the United States, including South Florida. We will continue to pursue and prosecute those responsible for these illegal schemes in an effort to bring those responsible to justice and protect those in our society.”
Barnett was charged with conspiracy and 37 counts of wire fraud, and with committing these offenses via telemarketing. If convicted, he faces a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years per count, a possible fine and mandatory restitution.
“This arrest highlights the joint effort between U.S. and Jamaican law enforcement to prosecute those who prey on our nation’s senior citizens,” said U.S. Postal Inspector in Charge for the Miami Division Ronald Verrochio. “The mission of the Postal Inspection Service is to protect consumers by ensuring the nation’s mail system is not used as a tool for fraud.”
Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations in Miami Alysa D. Erichs added, “These individuals are preying on some of the most vulnerable members in our communities. We will continue to work with our partners in Jamaica and other law enforcement agencies to put these criminal enterprises out of business.”
Acting U.S. Marshal Neil DeSousa said, “The U.S. Marshals Service in the Southern District of Florida, along with the Jamaica Foreign Field Office and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, remain committed to locating and apprehending criminals who defraud elderly Americans. We will continue to work with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Department of Homeland Security on the JOLT task force in the ongoing effort to combat lottery fraud targeting some of our most vulnerable citizens.”
U.S. Attorney Ferrer and Assistant Attorney General Delery both 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 attorneys Jeffrey Steger and Kathryn Drenning.
An indictment is merely an allegation, and every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.