With pressure from law enforcement and the fear of extradition making lottery scamming less lucrative and appealing, lottery scammers in western Jamaica are said to be merging into existing criminal gangs to create new avenues to continue their criminal lifestyle.
Speaking at Wednesday night’s Gleaner Light on Violence Special Crime Forum in Hanover, Sergeant Kevin Watson, who heads the police’s Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force, said that the scammers are branching out into other criminal enterprise through their association with gangs that have been a fixture in the region in recent years.
“There are more than 30 gangs in St James who are probably benefiting from the lottery scams. In fact, we believe most of the gangs came up through the proceeds of the lottery scam,” said Watson. “The top-tier scammers, who have mastered the game, they are at the helm of the gangs. They bring in the money to support the gangs.”
Watson is blaming the ongoing lawlessness that has been churning out record numbers of murders in the western region on the infighting between scammers-turned-gangsters, who are no longer generating vast sums of money from the illicit scheme, which is steadily becoming a diminishing pie.
“What you are seeing are the residual effects of lottery scamming. These scammers are branching off into gang activities. They would have already procured illegal firearms to facilitate their criminal activities from the proceeds of scamming. They are the ones fuelling the violence,” said Watson.
“The fact that the lottery scam is not as lucrative as it once was, you find more internal conflicts going on for the spoils. The spoils are now more valuable because it is not as prevalent as before.”
… Police target top players behind the scenes
With the war on the lottery scammers now yielding positive results, with the recent extradition of several alleged scammers – including the alleged mastermind Laverick Willocks to the United States to face justice – Sergeant Kevin Watson, who heads the police’s Anti-Lottery Scam Task Force, said that the focus would now be turned on the top-tier players, who operate from behind the scene.
“The top-tier scammers are the ones that are now on our radar. They mostly operate through foot soldiers and they don’t get their hands dirty,” Watson said at a Gleaner Light on Violence Special Crime Forum in Hanover on Wednesday.
“We are building out our cases on them, and we are expecting that before long, we will be getting some of them.”
With regard to strategies to discourage the next generation of youngsters from getting involved in the illicit scheme, Watson said that the task force has been working in the school system to discourage the practice, albeit it has been challenging, based on the fact that children tend to want to emulate what they see happening in their communities.
“Some students are living their dream through lottery scamming, and they don’t see the need for education,” said Watson. “That is the mindset we are working to change.”