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  • Eight alleged lotto scammers appear in US court

    The eight lottery scam suspects, extradited from Jamaica this week to face charges in the US, made their first court appearance in that North American country on Thursday.

    O'Neil Brown, Kazrae Gray, Kimberly Hudson, Dahlia Hunter, Jason Jahalal, Alrick McLeod, Xanu Morgan and Dario Palmer made their initial appearance at a federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota. All were ordered held without bond until detention hearings. Hudson, Brown, Palmer and McLeod pleaded not guilty. The other four didn't enter pleas because their attorneys weren't there.

    Authorities say they were involved in a multimillion-dollar lottery scam that victimized dozens of Americans. Here are some questions and answers about the case that began nearly six years ago with a phone call to an elderly widow in a small North Dakota town:

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    HOW DID THE CASE START?

    In September 2011, Edna Schmeets, 86, of Harvey, North Dakota, received a call from a man who told her she had won US$19 million and a new car, and needed only to pay taxes and fees. She lost her life savings of more than US$300,000 to the scam. Word eventually reached the FBI, and authorities opened a case in 2012.

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    WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?

    Authorities allege the sophisticated scam bilked at least 90 mostly elderly Americans out of more than US$5.7 million. Fifteen people each are charged with 66 total counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. They are accused of calling victims, persuading them to send money, and wiring the money to bank accounts in Jamaica. Authorities have dubbed the case "Operation Hard Copy," a reference to lists of prospective victims' contact information used by scammers.

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    WHO ARE THE SUSPECTS?

    Prosecutors say Lavrick Willocks masterminded the scam and operated it out of a mansion where he lived with his mother, Dahlia Hunter. They say others handled such duties as making scam phone calls and handling money. Some allegedly allowed their bank accounts to be used for the scheme.

    Willocks pleaded not guilty in January. Hunter; Willocks' girlfriend, Kimberly Hudson; Dario Palmer; O'Neil Brown; Alrick McLeod; Xanu Morgan; Jason Jahalal; and Kazrae Gray were extradited from Jamaica this week and made their initial court appearances Thursday in Bismarck. All were ordered held without bond until detention hearings. Hudson, Brown, Palmer and McLeod pleaded not guilty. The other four didn't enter pleas because their attorneys weren't there.

    Among the remaining defendants, one is awaiting trial in Rhode Island, one is in custody in Jamaica awaiting extradition to the US, and four are still fugitives.

    Sanjay Williams, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, who authorities say was a cohort of Willock's and ran a separate scam, was convicted by a US jury in 2015 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

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    WHY HAS THE CASE DRAGGED OUT SO LONG?

    The case is complex, involves international treaties and justice systems, and is the first of its kind in the US, according to Assistant US Attorney Clare Hochhalter, who is leading the prosecution.

    "Even with cooperation among agencies and governments, it has been a learning process for many," he said, adding that the case will create a "template" for such investigations.

    Authorities last year asked for help from the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, and the case was accepted based on the organization involved and the money laundering aspect, Hochhalter said.

    "To my knowledge, it is the only non-drug related (task force) case in the country," he said.

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    HAS THE CASE EFFECTIVELY ENDED THE SCAM?

    No. Variations of the scam continue to victimize people in the US and other countries, according to Hochhalter, who said it will take "training, resources and a global commitment of governments, citizens and law enforcement to continue the fight."

    The Federal Trade Commission estimates lottery scams could be a billion-dollar-a-year industry in Jamaica. US Attorney Chris Myers said both Americans and Jamaicans suffer the consequences.

    Hochhalter said Operation Hard Copy is continuing, has resulted in numerous "spin-off" cases throughout the US, and could prompt many more investigations in both the U.S. and Jamaica.

    FEATURED IMAGE: This combination of photos provided by the Burleigh County Sheriff's Department in Bismarck, North Dakota, shows eight people who were extradited from Jamaica to face charges in the US in what authorities say is a multimillion-dollar lottery scam that victimized dozens of Americans. From top row left are: O'Neil Brown, Kazrae Gray, Kimberly Hudson and Dahlia Hunter and from bottom row left are: Jason Jahalal, Alrick McLeod, Xanu Morgan and Dario Palmer. The eight suspects made their initial appearance Thursday, April 27, 2017, at federal court in Bismarck, North Dakota. (Burleigh County Sheriff's Department via AP)

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  • No more illegal recording of music from behind bars, says Montague

    National Security Minister, Robert Montague, has declared that the days of music being illegally recorded in the island’s prison system are over.

    In making his contribution to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament on Wednesday, Montague said the Department of Correctional Services has "stopped the recording of songs illegally".

    The minister’s comments came amid an ongoing firestorm over a song, titled Loodi, which involves young female dancehall artiste, Shenseea, collaborating with incarcerated dancehall deejay, Vybz Kartel.

    While Kartel, who is widely believed to have been recording songs while in prison, did his part of that particular song some years ago, the question of the musical privilege that has reportedly been extended to him has nonetheless re-emerged.

    Of note is that Kartel was transferred from the Horizon Adult Remand Centre to the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre in November of last year over the same concerns.

    And last month, Commissioner of Corrections, Ina Hunter, said claims that Kartel has been recording from prison could only be regarded as speculation up to that point, as no evidence had emerged to confirm the suspicion.

    She said a then ongoing investigation was being continued, to determine the truth of the matter, and promised that the findings will be made public.

    Kartel is serving a life sentence for murder.

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  • Alleged scammers laugh while being extradited

    Two of the eight Jamaicans who were today extradited to stand trial in the United States grinned as US Federal agents led them to the door of a chartered aeroplane.

    However, the other persons, including police constable Jason Jahalal, showed no emotion as they were led away to be tried in a foreign land.

    The five male and three female are alleged to have been involved in lottery scamming. They have been charged by the United States on a 66-count indictment.

    They are: police constable Jason Jahalal, Alrick McLeod, O'Neil Brown, Dario Palmer, Kazrae Gray, Kimberly Hudson, Xanu-Ann Morgan and Dahlia Hunter.

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  • Vicious death of 71-y-o woman angers residents

    The suspicious death of a 71-year-old woman at her home at Barnes Avenue in Rockfort, Kingston, has left a bitter taste in the mouth of, not only her children, but other residents who knew her well.

    The hillside community is grappling with the death as the signs, though unconfirmed, are that the deceased Elaine 'Laney' Smith, a mother of three, was possibly raped and killed. The police say they are treating the incident as a vicious death.

    Information reaching THE STAR is that a condom was seen on the floor of her one- bedroom dwelling beside her body, further pointing to the allegations that there was a possible intruder.

     

    Sexually assaulted

     

    Deputy Superintendent Chris Brown of the Kingston East police told THE STAR, "In the state that she was in, we suspect that she was sexually assaulted. We cannot confirm exactly the cause of death, but there were scars on her body, and we are treating the incident as a vicious death."

    THE STAR visited the community and the grim look on the faces of residents could tell that something was odd.

    Devon Carter, 26, son of the deceased, told our news team that he returned home from work and found his mother dead.

    " Mi reach home after 7 a.m. She would normally pull the gate for me when me reach home in the morning 'cause she know the sound of my bike. Mi nuh see her, so mi say she up there a sleep. Mi go knock, and mi nuh hear her, so mi push the door and see her lay down on the floor on her left side," he said.

    He said the police told him that there was possible foul play, but is not sold on it.

    "Nobody nah go trouble her. She go all bout. Mi question it, yes, and say inna miself what a condom a do there. Me nuh know she could a get a condom and she put it in her room, but mi nuh really jump to the conclusion," Carter told THE STAR.

    Our news team gathered that the police are also probing whether or not yesterday's killing may have been tied to an ongoing rivalry between two gangs in the area.

     

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  • I didn't need Kartel's permission for Shenseea collab, says 'Loodi' producer

    So Unique Records boss Elvis Redwood says he did not need approval from Vybz Kartel to pair the incarcerated dancehall star with young female deejay Shenseea on the hit 'Loodi' single.

    Redwood posted a video online early Wednesday addressing the brouhaha which erupted earlier this week over Loodi, afterhandlers of Vybz Kartel posted on his VEVO page the original copy of the song with Kartel's vocals without Shenseea.

    The post, which effectively revealed that Kartel wrote the entire song, was accompanied by the caption: “My song was never a collaboration!"

    Redwood acknowledged that the song wasn't originally intended to be a collaboration, but noted that, as the owner of the record, So Unique had the right to choose what to do with the track.

    "'My song was never a collabo', Kartel could ah neva ah tell me that cause me know it was never a collabo," Redwood said in the video.

    "What are you blaming me for? For putting Shenseea on a Kartel song without permission?" he asked rhetorically, adding "Mi neva inna the past need Kartel permission to put anyone on a song. Mi just know the do's and the dont's and I always do the do's."

    Redwood noted that he had the Kartel track for a number of years before releasing it. He explained that he did not release the song because he did not want it to overshadow a song by former So Unique artiste Keshan, Tricks are for Kids

    After parking Kartel's solo of Loodi for several years, Redwood said he went to Keshan to do a female version but she refused the chance. 

     "I tried to add two other female artistes and mi still never hear wah mi waan hear. Mi link Blade and him say Romeich have a bad artiste called Shenseea. Mi listen her song, mi link Romeich and say put him artiste on that, him say ah Kartel. I gave him specific instructions, don't touch Kartel hook,  sing over the two verses dem inna the female version, of the song. The plan was to drop the video and the song same time."

    He further laid out the intricacies of how the project was done, and also highlighted when it began to receive backlash from Kartel associates.

    "Mi no go half and half on young artiste, Romeich pay Red Boom fi mix the song, he paid Ruption half a million dollars to shoot the video. Then on the day of the video shoot, somebody got wind of it, 'Elvis ah put out a Kartel song', somebody link him and say 'the song caan go out and Kartel an ruh'," Redwood said.

    "Mi say 'ah PimPim, him say no, tell the man fi link me'. Romeich tell the man fi link me, no call, so mi get the man number. The person name Donwell, mi call, him nah ansa phone. Mi say 'hombre, how yu get involved inna mi project?'. Bout six minutes after that mi send another message, 'hombre, anywhere yu see the name So Unique or Elvis, stay far! If any of your associates have a problem, link me'."

    He explained that the business relationship between himself and Kartel is "good".

    "So Unique ah my label, mi a So Unique Records, mi no answer to no man, mi do mi own thing, as mi say, mi and Kartel good, we ah business associates, we have projects together that ah generate food for both of us," he said.

    "Putting a young artiste on a Kartel song was never an issue. And if it was an issue, why ah now Kartel ah seh - if it is really Kartel - it is an issue?" 

     

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