Rhode Island Woman Convicted at Trial Following Her Involvement in International Lottery Fraud Scheme
On Sept. 14, a federal jury in North Dakota convicted a Providence, Rhode Island woman after a week-long trial, on all 15 counts for her participation in a Jamaican lottery fraud scheme, which has affected about 100 identified victims with reported losses totaling more than $6.7 million.
Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Christopher Myers of the District of North Dakota, and Special Agent in Charge Jill Sanborn of FBI Minneapolis Division, made the announcement.
Melinda Bulgin, 28, was convicted on conspiracy and substantive mail fraud and wire fraud charges, as well as one count of money laundering conspiracy. According to the evidence presented at trial, Bulgin worked with members of a Jamaican lottery fraud conspiracy in the United States and Jamaica, and had multiple roles in the scheme. The scheme’s conspirators located in Jamaica purchased lists containing information about U.S. citizens, and contacted them over the phone. They told victims they had won large cash prizes and cars, but would need to pay taxes and fees in order to receive the prize. The scammers deliberately targeted victims over the age of 55. Victims were first courted with the lure of prizes, and additional scam callers would then also identify themselves as FBI, IRS or other trusted authorities that falsely confirmed that the prize winnings were real. Some victims lost their savings, their life insurance and their homes before running out of money and turning to public or family assistance. Victims lost anywhere from $200 to more than $100,000.
Evidence presented at trial further showed that Bulgin participated in the scheme via several roles - by buying the names of future victims to call, by collecting checks and cash from victims at her home address, and via wire transfers victims sent to her bank accounts. She also sent fraudulent mailings, such as letters and photos of the fake checks, to victims to convince them of their prize. She was caught while carrying $14,800 to Jamaica to share with her conspirators, money from an elderly woman in Arizona, who testified that she wired the money to Bulgin as advance fees for a large prize she had been told she won.
“Melinda Bulgin and her coconspirators deliberately targeted senior citizens as part of a lottery fraud scheme that affected dozens of victims, some of whom lost their life savings, life insurance, and even their homes,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The conviction in this case is the result of the hard work and determination of our domestic and foreign law enforcement partners, along with the prosecutors in the District of North Dakota and Criminal Division—and it demonstrates our firm commitment to stopping those who exploit senior citizens and other vulnerable populations.”
“This case involves a unique kind of victimization,” said U.S. Attorney Myers. “It is an assault of victims’ trust and dreams, in addition to their pocket books. Victims are targeted because their age or personal circumstances make them particularly vulnerable; the resulting harm is financial, psychological, and physical. Until recently, these scammers operated with impunity. We are helping to find them and hold them accountable for their crimes.”
“The bedrock of the FBI lies in protecting our most vulnerable, including older Americans who often find themselves on fixed incomes and tight budgets,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Sanborn. “While nothing can fully replace the victimization felt by those who fell prey to this scheme, we hope that this conviction ensures the defendants will never be able to harm anyone again. I’m grateful to all of our law enforcement partners who worked beyond borders to ensure the defendants could not hide and that justice was done.”
The government’s case included testimony by an FBI case agent who traced victim money from around the country to Bulgin, several American and Jamaican cooperators, one of whom was extradited from Jamaica, multiple banks, Fedex, and remitters such as Western Union. A Jamaican law officer who questioned Bulgin when she landed in Jamaica from the United States with $14,800 in cash also testified at trial. In addition, multiple victims testified to the financial devastation, fear and emotional toll caused by the scammers; several victims who testified had sent money directly to Bulgin, via cash, check or wire, totaling over $100,000.
In addition to Bulgin, 14 other defendants from Jamaica and the United States were charged in the same indictment, many of whom have pleaded guilty. The FBI led investigation of Bulgin and others has led to the successful prosecution of more than 30 defendants in related cases and the extradition of 14 Jamaican nationals.
U.S. v. Melinda Bulgin, et al. arises from the investigation of Sanjay Williams, Lavrick Willocks and others who led and operated criminal advance fee lottery telemarketing fraud organizations, with operations in the United States, Jamaica, Canada, United Kingdom, Israel, Costa Rica and elsewhere. The Jamaican lottery fraud scheme is listed in the United States as a Top International Criminal Organization Target (TICOT). Nationwide, the number of Jamaican Lottery Fraud victims is in the millions, with some estimates of annual losses in excess of $1 billion. The lottery scam victims in the United States are not the only victims of Melinda Bulgin’s crimes. Top Jamaican law enforcement officials emphasize that lottery scamming has directly led to a dramatic increase in violent crime – including murder, shootings, and extortion - in Jamaica, as rival scammers battle one another over the names of potential victims and profits.
The FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and a host of state and local authorities throughout the United States, along with foreign enforcement authorities, including Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing (JOLT) task force, have assisted in the investigation and the extradition of the defendants in the indictment. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided significant assistance in the extraditions. Trial Attorney Leila E. Babaeva of the Criminal Division Fraud Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Clare Hochhalter, James Patrick Thomas, Nick Chase and Jonathan O’Konek of the District of North Dakota are prosecuting the case.