Convinced he had won a lottery, the 82-year old Buffalo man made payment after payment in hopes of collecting his winnings.
By the time it was all over, he had shelled out $100,000 in cash and, no, he never saw the $7.5 million in prize money he was promised.
The man is believed to be one of at least 10 elderly people victimized by a fake lottery scam based in Jamaica and allegedly carried out by four men in New York City, including a father and two sons.
The men accused of cheating the elderly man appeared for the first time in Buffalo federal court Tuesday to face charges of fraud and money laundering.
“There are two conspiracies charged,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul J. Campana said of the dual charges Tuesday.
The scam, uncovered by Homeland Security and Postal Service agents, targeted the elderly and is alleged to have lasted from March of 2011 until June of this year.
All four defendants – Otis Ricketts and Horace, Corey and Orlando Buddle – appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy.
“He denies any involvement and criminality,” said Randy S. Margulis, Ricketts’ defense lawyer. The Buddles’ attorneys declined to comment.
Investigators say the scam often began with postcards informing the victims they had won a large sum of money.
If the victims responded, as the Buffalo man did, a “claims agent” would call and advise them they would have to pay certain “fees” or “taxes” in order to receive their winnings.
The calls, according to investigators, originated in Jamaica and were made numerous times a day to the same victim. U.S. authorities believe Jamaica has become a major source for telemarketing fraud targeting the elderly.
In most cases, according to court papers, the victims were advised to make their fee payments by mail, wire transfer or debit card.
The payments would go to a “mail drop” in the United States, where the facilitators or “money mules” would gather up the money and split it with their partners in Jamaica, investigators said.
The Buffalo victim, who is identified only as “C.C.” in the criminal complaint against the defendants, is alleged to have made an initial payment of $500 in November of 2011 and numerous payments afterward.
Most of the 10 victims detailed in court papers are from outside Western New York.
Investigators says the Buddles and Ricketts are Jamaican citizens and lawful permanent residents of the U.S. who served as money mules for the criminal operation.
The charges against them are the result of an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.