Federal jury convicts man in Jamaican lottery scam that prosecutors say cost victims millions

A 25-year-old man was convicted Thursday for his role in a Jamaican lottery scam that authorities say cost victims around the country millions of dollars.

Jurors in U.S. District Court in Bismarck had deliberated since Tuesday afternoon before reaching a verdict in the case of 25-year-old Sanjay Williams, of Montego Bay, Jamaica. He was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering and faces up to 40 years in prison.

Investigators described Williams primarily as a "lead broker" who bought and sold "sucker lists" of potential victims. He was the only one of 32 defendants to opt for trial; about a dozen defendants are awaiting extradition from Jamaica. Williams was arrested in North Carolina, where prosecutors say he had associates in the scam.

"I hope it makes a difference," Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter said. "I hope it sends a message to the people who continue doing this crime."

Defense attorney Charlie Stock said he hadn't decide on whether there would be an appeal. "I need to speak with Mr. Williams to see where he wants to go," he said.

Prosecutors said the case came to light four years ago when Edna Schmeets, 86, of Harvey, North Dakota, received a call from a man who told her she had won $19 million and a new car, and needed only to pay taxes and fees. The process dragged on until the widow's savings were wiped out, a sum of about $300,000.

Hochhalter told jurors that the subsequent investigation identified more than 70 people — mostly older and vulnerable citizens — who were scammed out of more than $5.2 million. About a dozen victims testified during the trial by video and in person.

The victims "came from all walks of life and from across the country" and ranged from a woman who owned three successful businesses to a World War II fight pilot, Hochhalter said, adding that some of the victims "as little as weeks ago were still sending money."

Stock said in his closing arguments that the case wasn't about sympathy, but about evidence.

Stock said that so many people involved in the scheme used fake names and IDs that it's difficult to believe most of the witnesses, one of whom he described as a "heroin addict and thief." Stock said investigators did not look into whether his client was himself a victim of identity theft, pointing to an incident in which Williams' email was hacked.

Hochhalter told jurors that investigators reviewed more than 500,000 documents, including 50,000 emails — many of which linked the scam to Williams.