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The Case of Lavrick Willocks - The Lottery Kingpin Skip to content

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FBI Agent Brings 'Lottery Kingpin' to Justice

How lottery scammers convinced one victim to send thousands of dollars overseas

Episode 46 - The Perfect Scam - FBI agent brings lottery scam kingpin to justice

AARP

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Looking for a change of pace, FBI agent Gasper decides to move from New York, where he’s lived his entire life, to North Dakota. As he settles in to his new field office in the Midwest, Gasper discovers that there are an alarming number of lottery scams being perpetrated against residents in his area. The cases are complex, and with many of the scammers overseas, they are hard to bring to trial. But Gasper is set on getting justice for the victims of these swindles and dedicates himself to investigating the crimes.

Meanwhile, Nancy, a 78-year-old retired financial planner, receives a letter stating that she’s won the lottery. To claim her prize, she just needs to pay the taxes on her winnings. She isn’t sure if the claim is legitimate and is hesitant to proceed. But after receiving multiple assurances from the scammers over months, Nancy gives in and sends them $20,000 and becomes one of the many victims Gasper will interview as part of his investigation. After years of painstaking work, the FBI agent finally gets the break he’s been looking for. He links a U.S. resident to the lottery-scam ring that operates overseas. This is the connecting piece that Gasper needs and will lead to a large-scale U.S. trial, the arrest of 27 scammers, and justice for 95 victims.

Quote graphic illustration for episode 46

TIPS:  If you think you’ve been a victim of a scam or would like to report fraud call The Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360Anyone can become the victim of a scam, it’s important to be vigilant and know your vulnerabilities. For instance, if you are looking for a job you are more vulnerable to a work-at-home scam.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:01] Will: Coming up this week on AARP - The Perfect Scam

[00:00:04] They can lie like you cannot believe.

[00:00:08] Will: Welcome back to AARP - The Perfect Scam. I'm Will Johnson, your host and we are joined by my cohost, as always, AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. Frank, welcome back.

[00:00:18] Frank Abagnale: Thanks, Will, glad to be here.

[00:00:19] Will: Frank, we will get into this week's story in just a minute, but first of all, I just wanted to talk about uh how interesting it's been for me as being part of this show, and then talking to people who are listeners or family members or friends, and as they have talked to other people and said, hey, this might be a scam or they're, they're just wiser I think and, and more skeptical. How great it is when you can tell someone, hey, look out. That might be a scam, and then they realize it is, and then they didn't become a victim. I'm sure that happens to you quite, quite a bit, but that's a great feeling and I think passing along that knowledge and information is so valuable.

[00:00:53] Frank Abagnale: This is why there's, it's great that there are organizations like AARP today that have reached out to the more than 38 million members to help them through the Fraud Watch Network understand these scams and through The Perfect Scam that we are doing right now on our podcast, so it's great that we have people and groups and organizations like AARP and the volunteers at AARP that go out every day and educate people about all these scams in many different ways, like we do with The Perfect Scam.

[00:01:21] Will: Well, and I know for a fact that we have listeners who have uh been able to tell someone else that, you know, something they've heard on the show and said, oh, that's, it might be a scam. Again, it's a great feeling to stop... it's like stopping somebody from being robbed.

[00:01:33] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely. And then, when we discuss these things and people hear it, they go tell their neighbors about it. They tell their friends about it when they're playing cards or whatever they're doing saying, have you heard about this scam? No, I didn't know that, or they'll say, I've got this call and they can say, hey, I can tell you that's a scam. This is what they're doing and they, they inform them about it.

[00:01:50] Will: And as we'll hear about in today's episode that, that dual sort of a--, approach where it has to be, you know, in a lot of cases law enforcement and whether it's putting somebody behind jail or a penalty or a fine, but then also that educational part of going out, where law enforcement's going out to try and educate a certain part of the population, or a lot of the population about scams. It has to start there.

[00:01:27] Frank Abagnale: It has to, and as we've always discussed, you know, once you lose your money, you're probably never going to get your money back. They may catch the person, they may send them to jail for 30 years, but you probably won't get your money back. So it's much better not to lose your money to begin with.

[00:02:26] Will: All right, Frank, well let's get into today's episode. It is a JOLT scam. We covered another JOLT scam a few episodes back, and JOLT stands for Jamaican Operations Link to Telemarketing. It's a lottery scam.

(phone ring)

[00:02:41] Hello.

[00:02:41] Will: Hi, it's Will Johnson at AARP.

[00:02:44] Hi, Will. How are you? I heard some good things about you.

[00:02:47] Will: I've heard great things about you.

[00:02:48] (laugh)

[00:02:50] Will: That's Nancy. She's 78 years old and a widow who once taught financial planning courses and worked in the financial sector for over three decades. She's also a scam victim, or maybe we should scam survivor.

[00:03:02] Nancy: This all started in December 2014. We're going on four and a half years now.

[00:03:08] Will: In December 2014, Nancy gets a long letter from a company called American Sweepstakes. She's won almost 5.5 million dollars, and the letter explains that in order to collect her money, she'll have to pay some taxes along the way.

[00:03:21] Nancy: And I watch television enough now, I n ever used to have time, and I see all these people winning money and I hear 'em talking about you know who pays the taxes for this stuff, and I thought, well yeah, this makes sense. You can't inherit three or four million dollars and not pay some kind of taxes, you know.

[00:03:41] Will: The letter goes on to tell Nancy what she has to do to get the money.

[00:03:45] Nancy: And at the bottom it breaks into identifying the person who will work with me, and help me get my money and his name is Robert Carson. That's his name, 'cause they said he was in New York.

[00:04:00] Will: Nancy is excited but cautious. She tells her son about the letter.

[00:04:04] Nancy: And then he said, "Well mom, maybe it's your turn to win some money." And I said, "Well I've contributed to so many people in my life and helped so many people it sure would be nice.

[00:04:15] Will: The letter outlines the tax situation. American Sweepstakes will pay the federal taxes, but Nancy is responsible for state taxes.

[00:04:22] Nancy: And I thought, you know, that makes sense because I understand a lot of people are trying to get out of doing that, and having been in the financial planning world, I thought it seemed like that was a very honest thing to do.

[00:04:36] Will: So Nancy picks up the phone and dials Robert Carson in New York.

[00:04:39] Nancy: I kept telling me, I wasn't sure about this. I just wasn't really sure that I, I wanted to be a part of it. And uh, so finally come April the 8th, it was about time for me to pay my federal taxes, and I had money in my savings account that came from when my late husband passed away, and I was very busy working with people and trying to help them with their IRAs and things, and uh, all of a sudden, here comes a call on, on April the 8th, and said, "You know, if you just pay your state taxes, you'd be able to get the money we owe you."

[00:05:24] Will: So Nancy decides to do it. She sends $5,000 in February, and then in April that same year, the rest of the state taxes, almost $20,000.

[00:05:33] Nancy: And it went to Melinda Bolgin. I have to go over to my bank and I had a number or something, I'd never done this before, so I really didn't know how authentic or anything it was, but the bank sent the $20,000.

[00:05:47] Will: Along the way she let Robert Carson know she wasn't someone to be trifled with.

[00:05:51] Nancy: I said, "Robert, if this is a scam, I'm going to tell you now, if it's the last breath I have, buddy, you're going to get caught, and you're going to serve prison time."

[00:06:01] Will: But that's the last Nancy hears about the taxes or for money or the lottery. Little did Nancy know at the time though, she was being targeted by a scam ring hundreds of miles away in Jamaica, and she's not the only one. Frank Gasper has worked with the FBI for most of his adult life. He was born and raised in Queens and worked in the New York office for decades. But then, in 2010, he and his wife moved to North Dakota. They were ready for a change or an adventure as he calls it. He set up shop with a small team in an FBI office in Bismarck. Of course, he knew all about lottery scams, but around two years into his new job, he learns about JOLT scams, or Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing. Again, these are scams that originate in Jamaica where the scam culture has been proliferating in recent years and US authorities have been shining a light working with Jamaican authorities to go after the scammers.

[00:06:51] Frank Gasper: The scam started in the early 2000s out of Jamaica, one of the reasons why there was so much scamming in Jamaica is that uh with the telecommunication revolution in the early 2000s, companies started using Jamaica as phone centers. So people were trained to be phone operators.

[00:07:08] Will: Like, like call centers?

[00:07:09] Frank Gasper: Call centers. Call centers, and uh there was a training going on in the call centers and to train personnel and how to do customer service. And uh, it wasn't too long after that that some people realized, hey, I can use the skills I learned as a, in the call centers to uh basically scam people. There was a few people who took advantage of that, and uh they started working on, on their own, uh outside of the call centers, and they just learned, they got used to just working with (inaudible) people. The trick is, on the scammers is uh being able to read the person on the other end of the line. It's a skill. The very successful scammers are very good at reading people over the telephone and getting a lot of information from the person that's speaking to them on the other end.

[00:07:57] Will: So it, from what I'm hearing, it grew out of sort of a legitimate workforce, and then some people took advantage of it, they had the skills, like you say, they knew how to talk to people or sell them something if they've been doing that prior, but uh it quickly became more, or at least over the course of years, a few years, a real business, a real scam, a hotbed of scamming and phone calls, right?

[00:08:19] Frank Gasper: Yes, it is. The other thing about it is it doesn't take a lot of money based with the tel--, communication revolution, people were able to make telephone calls from Jamaica into the states for almost no cost at all, and now they can make them over the internet with literally no cost. The only real cost of getting into the scamming industry is the list used to call people 'cause uh, people who are called are targeted, and not just called out of a phone books.

[00:08:46] Will: These are lead lists. We've talked about them before, but to understand the dark world of scammers, you have to understand how important these lead lists are.

[00:08:53] Will: And North Dakota's a long way from Jamaica, but there's a connection, it's easy enough with a phone to find victims a long way away, which is what this is all about.

[00:09:02] Frank Gasper: That's correct. The victims from, I've spoke to victims by, in just about every single field office in the country which is there's 56 field offices in the country and I've talked to victims in every one of them.

[00:09:12] Will: As part of your investigation?

[00:09:13] Frank Gasper: As part of this investigation and in, as part of a larger investigation of people who sell lead lists. And, which is, touches every single field office in the country.

[00:09:25] Will: So back in 2012, the first Jamaican lottery scam on Frank's desk involves an elderly woman in North Dakota. At first it appears she lost more than $150,000. Her name is Edna. She'd been sending cashier's checks in a scam similar to the one Nancy's caught up in.

[00:09:40] Frank Gasper: Scammers are, they'll trick you to get initial payment from somebody. Get them to send out, or say get them to send 50 or 100, whatever they get. Anywhere from a couple hundred to 500 bucks. But once you have them, the idea that once they have somebody on the hook, it's just getting them. And there's a whole lot of different reasons why they can get people to send money.

[00:10:01] Will: Frank took a case to the US Attorney's Office that gave him the green light to investigate, so as time goes by, Frank and his team start to realize that the scope of the scam is much bigger than they imagined. They start hearing from and talking to dozens and dozens of people caught up in the scam.

[00:10:16] Frank Gasper: I spoke to every one of them on the telephone, and the big thing was on the telephone I was always trying to convince that I am actually with the FBI.

[00:10:23] Will: Right.

[00:10:24] Frank Gasper: Because they obviously got scammed off the telephone and sometimes it was a matter of getting them to stop sending money. Even after I initial talked to them, people still sent... sent money. But to speak, to meet with some of the people in person, uh it's sometimes heartbreaking to hear the stories. One of the victims I identified was a person who I contacted, is not, they didn't contact law enforcement, I contacted them. They were retired bank executive, and the person, they told me that the reason why they sent the money, they realized they were being scammed, but they had been married to this person, he was a male, he had been married to his wife for 62 years and she had recently had to gone to a nursing home. And the way they got him was uh, and he said he realized he was being scammed, but he said he had to take the chance, because they told him with the money, that surprise, you ought to afford the best kind of care in the world, to be able to take your wife from the nursing home, and she'd be able to come home. [00:11:26] And uh he over and over told me he realized he was being scammed, but he had to take that chance. And he, even after sending thousands and thousands of dollars, he had to, he had his opportunity to um, get his wife home. He had, he had to keep going after it.

[00:11:40] Will: As Frank talks to more and more victims, he discovers just how cruel, invasive, and deceitful these scammers are getting inside the lives of potential victims.

[00:11:49] Frank Gasper: What happens in this case is that these people worm their way into these very vulnerable people's lives. I mean the victims will, will receive 10, 15, 20 calls a day. They're very good in what, figuring the victim's needs. They'll know, call, talk about their victim who are very religious, they'll talk about God and they'll start talking about, they'll ask other victims, hey, um, maybe they don't have a family or maybe their family is not living near them, so they'll, they'll call them, hey, have you taken your pill? And they're nice. And oh, can you go down to the bank and just, and it's a, it's just a daily phone call where otherwise they're filling a need for the victim in the sense of their victim doesn't have a lot to do. At one point they might, it could have been a bank president, or I have a World War II fighter pilot victim, people in law enforcement, retired teachers who had, and very, some very successful people but they don't have a lot going on, and so um, these people are filling a need, in some cases they're filling a need.

[00:12:33] Will: I'm always amazed to think about that personalization of the scam, the fact that they, it always amazes me that they have to keep, they much keep records of each call and each person and know, they ask about the pill or, you know, if they've taken their medicine that day or, or what have you.

[00:13:03] Frank Gasper: Well, when you have a victim who's sending you a lot of money, I mean like I said, there's victims who have sent millions of doll--, literally a million dollars themselves, and not that these, the person I'm thinking of, not that he's a rich person, but he had a, he worked for uh, General Electric and had a, a large 401K.

[00:13:22] Will: Yeah.

[00:13:22] Frank Gasper: And they, they basically cle--, cleaned him out. I've been asked a number of times; how could people keep sending money? How could they lose so much money? Because it's for a number of different reasons. One is that it's always that hope. When you lived a middle class, upper middle class existence, and all of a sudden, you're whatever your income is in retirement, and you're in your 80s or 90s you're not, you've lost all that money. You not, it's very hard for, it's not like they can go out, you know if you're 40s and 50s and 30s you can go out and get a job. When you're in your 80s and 90s you're not going to get a job, so that money is gone. They're, they have no hope, so it's almost gam--, gambling in the sense of hey, you've got to keep the hope of hey, if I keep sending them, if I, you know, the scammer would say, all you've got to do is send a little bit more and you're going to get all your money and whatever, you'll get your money back. And so the, that's why people are able to lose so much money.

[00:14:17] Will: And as we've learned on our show, scammers will literally stop at nothing, even when the scam victims are doing everything they can to put an end to it.

[00:14:24] Frank Gasper: I've had cases where a victim has changed telephone numbers, and they've tried to break contact and they, they'll call the local police and have a, local police do a welfare check, the scammer will. And they'll have a police officer actually show up at the house of the victim, uh and then hand the victim a telephone thinking that there was a family member of the victim, and lo and behold, it's a scammer. So the big thing is to keep an eye, even after they break con--, your victim breaks contact, please keep an eye on them.

[00:14:57] Will: That's a new one. We haven't heard that. So the scammer will call the police and do a welfare check. The officer will hand the officer's phone...

[00:15:05] Frank Gasper: The phone to the victim. Sometimes they use a home phone.

[00:15:07] Will: And say like, what? Hey, call me back or we really want to talk to you?

[00:15:10] Frank Gasper: What happens is that the, you think how intimidating it is to have the elderly victim with a, a police officer in uniform and the victim's handed a telephone and hey, so and so, remember me? And they're talking right in front of the police officer. And, and, and again, I've seen police officers, a lot of times they'll call actually taxis, also um, repair people, uh, they'll call a local plumber or a local electrician. My mom's having trouble with, with some plumbing and so the plumber shows up not knowing, you know, just thinking they're going to do a job and they, of course, the victim answers their door and they go, hey, I don't have any problem. Well your, your son or daughter said...

[00:15:52] Will: Here he is.

[00:15:53] Frank Gasper: Here it is, and they'll actually hand the telephone to them.

[00:15:55] Will: Wow. As with most of the scam investigations we talk about, the hard work of finding and busting the bad guys goes on behind the scenes, weeks, months, and sometimes years of finding victims, interviewing them, owing them money, talking to banks, looking at telephone records and coming through email accounts.

[00:16:12] Frank Gasper: Literally uh serving hundreds subpoenas of financial records, eventually obtaining over 50 search warrants for a, email addresses, uh, uh computers and so forth, uh probably going over literally examining over 2 million emails.

[00:16:31] Will: And as he does that, the investigation quickly focuses in on lead lists, and the world of lead lists has its own terms, rules, and guidelines.

[00:16:40] Frank Gasper: All these scamming organizations, so their big thing is finding the victims, finding names for victims, finding targeting individuals. Uh, they'll pay upwards of $10 a name of lists, so they'll have lists of obtain, what they call a hard copy lead which is an entry blank to a sweepstakes that has, contains a telephone number. They'll pay up to $10 a name for 100 people.

[00:17:06] Will: For people who've already fallen victim to a scam?

[00:17:09] Frank Gasper: Yes, in the sense of they've fallen victim to a, they've entered, they believe they've entered into a lottery and paid anywhere from 10 to 50 dollars to enter this lottery, or receive information about lotteries.

[00:17:21] Will: So they've already made that first step, so a scammer will know, okay, these people are likely or, or possibly will, will continue to do this.

[00:17:27] Frank Gasper: Yes, they're called sweepstakes leads.

[00:17:29] Will: Okay.

[00:17:30] Frank Gasper: And so they're, they're people who are predisposed and that's what the scammers will look at and if they can get two people out of that hundred, and they've paid a thousand dollars, they've paid $10 a lead, that's a thousand dollars they paid for that lead list, and they get two people out of that list, they feel they've been successful. So you can figure out how much money they must be earning in order to cover the cost of the leads.

[00:17:50] Will: So these lead lists are like currency, and scammers buy and sell the list based on the kind of person they want to target.

[00:17:57] Frank Gasper: They want people who are over the age of 65, they have sel--, what they call selects, uh on these leads, and so they want people who are over the age of 65. They'd rather 75, but they at least want lists with people over 65, people who uh, who have entered into a sweepstakes, people who live by themselves. And they'd rather have these lists, they would like to have 70% of their list being female, uh, and they also rather have people in rural areas than cities. And I've had people from, one of the victims in this case was from New York City. I have people who were urban, too, but they want people who somehow, they can isolate them. They want peo--, and that's why they, what they're looking for. The idea is isolate them from society and then they can victimize them.

[00:18:42] Will: Another key element in the scammer's toolkit is money mules. These are the people who knowingly, sometimes unknowingly are handling the money from victims and getting it to the scammers.

[00:18:51] Frank Gasper: The, the biggest problem most of the scammers have, it's not getting victims to send money, convincing people to send money, it's how do you get the money from the United States or from Canada to Jamaica or Costa Rica or wherever that scammer's located. So that's the money laundering aspect of this case.

[00:19:07] Will: And why don't they just use like we hear about in a lot of cases with a, with a gift card or something like that, once they get the numbers on the back.

[00:19:03] Frank Gasper: Because they'll do that, but they can only do much of that money in small amounts. I know of victims who have lost over a million, a million dollars. You can't send a million dollars on a, on a gift card, so the trick is, you know, when you're talking about large amounts, amounts of money, uh, they have to figure out another way, and they have networks of people who launder the money.

[00:19:32] Will: Frank eventually talks to over 90 victims, people across the country who have fallen victim to the same group of scammers, and in December 2013, by following the money, Frank starts to unravel the thread, a possible money mule involved in the scam named Melinda Bolgin.

[00:19:47] Frank Gasper: I actually made a phone call figuring at the time she was a col--, in college in New York, I, I called, I'd subpoenaed some records, got a telephone number that she used. I called the number and I end up getting a hold of Melinda's mother. I told Melinda's mother who I was, that I was, that Melinda was involved in this scam, because I had traced victim money, other victim money going to Melinda.

[00:20:14] Will: Frank then calls Melinda's grandmother in Providence.

[00:20:17] Frank Gasper: I called them and told her, and that's where I learned how Melinda was a, was a student at Pace, and so proud of her, and I said, well ma'am I'm with the FBI and I know Melinda's involved in this. She needs to stop, and if she doesn't, she's going to get herself in trouble.

[00:20:33] Will: But almost a year and a half later, in May 2015 despite Frank's warning and attempt to get Melinda out of the money mule business, he gets a call.

[00:20:18] Frank Gasper: From a Jamaican customs official who had told me that she had uh, uh stopped Melinda Bolgin and recovered roughly $15,000 from Melinda Bolgin.

[00:20:52] Will: How did Melinda ever get tied into this organization? She's a college student.

[00:20:56] Frank Gasper: A family member was in--, was involved in Jamaica and a boyfriend of hers in Jamaica were involved in it, and got her, and that's how she got involved.

[00:21:06] Will: Had Melinda made other trips to Jamaica without being detected?

[00:21:09] Frank Gasper: Yes, I had to watch, and she actually, she, I know she carried $17,000 in another occasion to Jamaica.

[00:21:15] Will: Did she use another passport, or did she...

[00:21:17] Frank Gasper: No, she...

[00:21:17] Will: slip through?

[00:21:18] Frank Gasper: No, she used her own password. She was actually stopped at the airport. She showed the custom official that she declared the money in the United States, so they let her go.

[00:21:25] Will: So Melinda was the link to Jamaica, but she's a minor cog in the wheel, and now Frank could look for the people at the top of the scam, the ones making the real money. He hones on a group of people, all friends and family who are running the scam.

[00:21:38] Frank Gasper: It is part of a, there is a gang they, they have a, they, call it a loosely affiliated gang, yes. Uh, they have a name that they use which I don't think is public, so I don't, don't want to disclose it.

[00:21:49] Will: And for the first time in the investigation, Frank and the FBI have names.

[00:21:53] Frank Gasper: A couple people. One of them was a guy named Laveric Wollox, a couple of his brothers, uh Kasseri Gray, um, their mother.

[00:22:03] Will: A family operation.

[00:22:04] Frank Gasper: Family, it was a family operation, but and their friends, I mean it's all in Jamaica and there's a number of people. Like I said, all of them were major players in this, in this organization.

[00:22:13] Will: But this tight-knit group of family and friends is making millions scamming people back in the US.

[00:22:18] Frank Gasper: Out of the Lavic Wollox conspiracy, it's over 5.8 million dollars that I, I've identified. And that's, honestly that's only a fraction of what that organization took.

[00:22:29] Will: One of the hallmarks of the organization is the approach they'd take with victims. It's not an uncommon tactic, but it's one reason they're so successful.

[00:22:37] Frank Gasper: Never threatened them. Always leave a very positive note with the, with the victim was Willox's, one of Willox's rules, and other people in his, his organization, they realized that the good people who got a lot of money, that's what they did.

[00:22:50] Will: Finally, time comes to take action. US Marshals and Jamaican authorities line up arrest warrants and move in.

[00:22:57] Frank Gasper: Only one of them turned themselves in. All the other 13, the Jamaican authorities and the US Marshal Task Force chased down in Jamaica and arrested.

[00:23:06] Will: Oh wow, so they knew they were uh someone was looking for them.

[00:23:09] Frank Gasper: All 14 were aware that somebody was looking for them. And, and the 14th person who turned himself in, only turned himself in after the, the Jamaican authorities started looking for them and had gone to their house. And that they, she had turned themselves in, but the other 14, they were well aware that they were being arrested because their codefendants were being arrested, had been indicted and in some cases convicted, so they knew they were being sought out by the US, so they were hiding.

[00:23:35] Will: In addition to the 14 suspects picked up in Jamaica and extradited back to the states, more are arrested in the US. Overall, more than 30 people are locked up. Frank Gasper interviews almost all of the scammers behind bars.

[00:23:47] Frank Gasper: They're scammers, and one thing we've learned about fraudsters is that uh, they, they'll, whatever is good for them. What I found they're always contrite but what's real contrite and what's just trying to make uh, someone feel like a uh, they really do feel bad, uh, so it's, it's hard, you know, they're fraudsters.

[00:24:08] Will: And out of all of those people who were arrested and extradited, only two of them go to trial. The others all make pleas and avoid a trial by jury. Laveric Willox was the kingpin of the operation, pled guilty in 2017 to avoid a 20 year sentence. He got 6 years.

[00:24:22] Frank Gasper: I have recovered some money for victims, money I seized from bank accounts, money I seized through Jamaican authorities that we were able to get back to people, but uh, the victims themselves, they personally have not been able to recover. We have, through some court process been able to recover some money, you know, and that's an ongoing process in trying to get the money back to the victims.

[00:24:44] Will: Melinda Bolgin, college student turned money mule was found guilty of 15 counts of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering. She's not yet been sentenced. And as is so common in these cases, the money is, for the most part, gone. And Nancy, who we told you about at the beginning of the story, is one of the victims who testified at the trial.

[00:25:04] Will: So how does it all make you feel as you look back upon all this. You got to testify, you, you lost money, but you've gotten some back, but you were the victim of a scam.

[00:25:12] Nancy: Yes, and I, you know I'm determined that these kind of people are going to pay the price.

[00:25:17] Frank Gasper: We're not going to be able to get all these people, there's just so many of them. The big thing is try to prevent people being victimized. To understand, get the word out that hey, there are no lotteries. You never have to send money in to get money. If people call you, you haven't won anything; hang up the phone. I, I can't emphasize that enough. Hang up the phone. Don't be nice, don't, just hang up the phone. You haven't won. You can get 100 calls from 100 different people in which these people do, they literally get calls from 100 different groups. That's one of the reasons why they think they've won, because they get so many calls. But you haven't won anything.

[00:25:56] Will: So Frank, this was a massive law enforcement effort to track down some of the bad guys in this story. One interesting part of it that we've heard in other scam stories is that getting the money to scammers, they often use someone like Melinda, a mule.

[00:26:12] Frank Abagnale: Yeah, I mean mules are used a lot by criminals, so when they steal millions of credit card numbers or debit card numbers and create fake debit cards, obviously not one individual can go out and get all this money and drain all of these ATM machines, so you hire people who simply go do that, and they get a cut, or a very small percentage for going out and doing it. But they're the ones that are exposed. The actual criminal is never exposed, people are doing it for him. So you know, when I wrote checks, it was just me. Today check forgers hire a bunch of mules to go pass all the checks at all the stores, it's their picture being taken, it's their information that's being ca--, captured, uh and not the criminal's. So criminals have always used mules, so it doesn't surprise anyone in a scam like this that they would use mules to be able to move that money and get that money back to them.

[00:27:02] Will: And sometimes the mules are innocent. They don't know what's going on.

[00:27:05] Frank Abagnale: Sometimes there's scams like you see in the newspaper all the time where they'll tell you that you can earn a lot of money making these phone calls, or you can earn a lot of money buying gifts for people, and so on, those are all scams, but they're using those innocent people to commit those crimes for them.

[00:27:19] Will: It is often like a very organized, it's like a corporation the way some of these scams are set up in that they're, whether, whether it's a call center and there's all sorts of scams, but the call center, then there's lead lists, then there's mules. I mean there's all these levels of hierarchy if you will.

[00:27:32] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely.

[00:27:34] Will: All right, Frank, we will be back next week. Thanks for joining us again. This week we'll have a, a new scam, new stories, new advice next week.

[00:27:40] Will: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Thank you to my team of scambusters, producers Julie Getz and Brook Ellis, our audio engineer, Julio Gonzales, and of course, my cohost, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP - The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson.

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END OF TRANSCRIPT(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:01] Will: Coming up this week on AARP - The Perfect Scam

[00:00:04] They can lie like you cannot believe.

[00:00:08] Will: Welcome back to AARP - The Perfect Scam. I'm Will Johnson, your host and we are joined by my cohost, as always, AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. Frank, welcome back.

[00:00:18] Frank Abagnale: Thanks, Will, glad to be here.

[00:00:19] Will: Frank, we will get into this week's story in just a minute, but first of all, I just wanted to talk about uh how interesting it's been for me as being part of this show, and then talking to people who are listeners or family members or friends, and as they have talked to other people and said, hey, this might be a scam or they're, they're just wiser I think and, and more skeptical. How great it is when you can tell someone, hey, look out. That might be a scam, and then they realize it is, and then they didn't become a victim. I'm sure that happens to you quite, quite a bit, but that's a great feeling and I think passing along that knowledge and information is so valuable.

[00:00:53] Frank Abagnale: This is why there's, it's great that there are organizations like AARP today that have reached out to the more than 38 million members to help them through the Fraud Watch Network understand these scams and through The Perfect Scam that we are doing right now on our podcast, so it's great that we have people and groups and organizations like AARP and the volunteers at AARP that go out every day and educate people about all these scams in many different ways, like we do with The Perfect Scam.

[00:01:21] Will: Well, and I know for a fact that we have listeners who have uh been able to tell someone else that, you know, something they've heard on the show and said, oh, that's, it might be a scam. Again, it's a great feeling to stop... it's like stopping somebody from being robbed.

[00:01:33] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely. And then, when we discuss these things and people hear it, they go tell their neighbors about it. They tell their friends about it when they're playing cards or whatever they're doing saying, have you heard about this scam? No, I didn't know that, or they'll say, I've got this call and they can say, hey, I can tell you that's a scam. This is what they're doing and they, they inform them about it.

[00:01:50] Will: And as we'll hear about in today's episode that, that dual sort of a--, approach where it has to be, you know, in a lot of cases law enforcement and whether it's putting somebody behind jail or a penalty or a fine, but then also that educational part of going out, where law enforcement's going out to try and educate a certain part of the population, or a lot of the population about scams. It has to start there.

[00:01:27] Frank Abagnale: It has to, and as we've always discussed, you know, once you lose your money, you're probably never going to get your money back. They may catch the person, they may send them to jail for 30 years, but you probably won't get your money back. So it's much better not to lose your money to begin with.

[00:02:26] Will: All right, Frank, well let's get into today's episode. It is a JOLT scam. We covered another JOLT scam a few episodes back, and JOLT stands for Jamaican Operations Link to Telemarketing. It's a lottery scam.

(phone ring)

[00:02:41] Hello.

[00:02:41] Will: Hi, it's Will Johnson at AARP.

[00:02:44] Hi, Will. How are you? I heard some good things about you.

[00:02:47] Will: I've heard great things about you.

[00:02:48] (laugh)

[00:02:50] Will: That's Nancy. She's 78 years old and a widow who once taught financial planning courses and worked in the financial sector for over three decades. She's also a scam victim, or maybe we should scam survivor.

[00:03:02] Nancy: This all started in December 2014. We're going on four and a half years now.

[00:03:08] Will: In December 2014, Nancy gets a long letter from a company called American Sweepstakes. She's won almost 5.5 million dollars, and the letter explains that in order to collect her money, she'll have to pay some taxes along the way.

[00:03:21] Nancy: And I watch television enough now, I n ever used to have time, and I see all these people winning money and I hear 'em talking about you know who pays the taxes for this stuff, and I thought, well yeah, this makes sense. You can't inherit three or four million dollars and not pay some kind of taxes, you know.

[00:03:41] Will: The letter goes on to tell Nancy what she has to do to get the money.

[00:03:45] Nancy: And at the bottom it breaks into identifying the person who will work with me, and help me get my money and his name is Robert Carson. That's his name, 'cause they said he was in New York.

[00:04:00] Will: Nancy is excited but cautious. She tells her son about the letter.

[00:04:04] Nancy: And then he said, "Well mom, maybe it's your turn to win some money." And I said, "Well I've contributed to so many people in my life and helped so many people it sure would be nice.

[00:04:15] Will: The letter outlines the tax situation. American Sweepstakes will pay the federal taxes, but Nancy is responsible for state taxes.

[00:04:22] Nancy: And I thought, you know, that makes sense because I understand a lot of people are trying to get out of doing that, and having been in the financial planning world, I thought it seemed like that was a very honest thing to do.

[00:04:36] Will: So Nancy picks up the phone and dials Robert Carson in New York.

[00:04:39] Nancy: I kept telling me, I wasn't sure about this. I just wasn't really sure that I, I wanted to be a part of it. And uh, so finally come April the 8th, it was about time for me to pay my federal taxes, and I had money in my savings account that came from when my late husband passed away, and I was very busy working with people and trying to help them with their IRAs and things, and uh, all of a sudden, here comes a call on, on April the 8th, and said, "You know, if you just pay your state taxes, you'd be able to get the money we owe you."

[00:05:24] Will: So Nancy decides to do it. She sends $5,000 in February, and then in April that same year, the rest of the state taxes, almost $20,000.

[00:05:33] Nancy: And it went to Melinda Bolgin. I have to go over to my bank and I had a number or something, I'd never done this before, so I really didn't know how authentic or anything it was, but the bank sent the $20,000.

[00:05:47] Will: Along the way she let Robert Carson know she wasn't someone to be trifled with.

[00:05:51] Nancy: I said, "Robert, if this is a scam, I'm going to tell you now, if it's the last breath I have, buddy, you're going to get caught, and you're going to serve prison time."

[00:06:01] Will: But that's the last Nancy hears about the taxes or for money or the lottery. Little did Nancy know at the time though, she was being targeted by a scam ring hundreds of miles away in Jamaica, and she's not the only one. Frank Gasper has worked with the FBI for most of his adult life. He was born and raised in Queens and worked in the New York office for decades. But then, in 2010, he and his wife moved to North Dakota. They were ready for a change or an adventure as he calls it. He set up shop with a small team in an FBI office in Bismarck. Of course, he knew all about lottery scams, but around two years into his new job, he learns about JOLT scams, or Jamaican Operations Linked to Telemarketing. Again, these are scams that originate in Jamaica where the scam culture has been proliferating in recent years and US authorities have been shining a light working with Jamaican authorities to go after the scammers.

[00:06:51] Frank Gasper: The scam started in the early 2000s out of Jamaica, one of the reasons why there was so much scamming in Jamaica is that uh with the telecommunication revolution in the early 2000s, companies started using Jamaica as phone centers. So people were trained to be phone operators.

[00:07:08] Will: Like, like call centers?

[00:07:09] Frank Gasper: Call centers. Call centers, and uh there was a training going on in the call centers and to train personnel and how to do customer service. And uh, it wasn't too long after that that some people realized, hey, I can use the skills I learned as a, in the call centers to uh basically scam people. There was a few people who took advantage of that, and uh they started working on, on their own, uh outside of the call centers, and they just learned, they got used to just working with (inaudible) people. The trick is, on the scammers is uh being able to read the person on the other end of the line. It's a skill. The very successful scammers are very good at reading people over the telephone and getting a lot of information from the person that's speaking to them on the other end.

[00:07:57] Will: So it, from what I'm hearing, it grew out of sort of a legitimate workforce, and then some people took advantage of it, they had the skills, like you say, they knew how to talk to people or sell them something if they've been doing that prior, but uh it quickly became more, or at least over the course of years, a few years, a real business, a real scam, a hotbed of scamming and phone calls, right?

[00:08:19] Frank Gasper: Yes, it is. The other thing about it is it doesn't take a lot of money based with the tel--, communication revolution, people were able to make telephone calls from Jamaica into the states for almost no cost at all, and now they can make them over the internet with literally no cost. The only real cost of getting into the scamming industry is the list used to call people 'cause uh, people who are called are targeted, and not just called out of a phone books.

[00:08:46] Will: These are lead lists. We've talked about them before, but to understand the dark world of scammers, you have to understand how important these lead lists are.

[00:08:53] Will: And North Dakota's a long way from Jamaica, but there's a connection, it's easy enough with a phone to find victims a long way away, which is what this is all about.

[00:09:02] Frank Gasper: That's correct. The victims from, I've spoke to victims by, in just about every single field office in the country which is there's 56 field offices in the country and I've talked to victims in every one of them.

[00:09:12] Will: As part of your investigation?

[00:09:13] Frank Gasper: As part of this investigation and in, as part of a larger investigation of people who sell lead lists. And, which is, touches every single field office in the country.

[00:09:25] Will: So back in 2012, the first Jamaican lottery scam on Frank's desk involves an elderly woman in North Dakota. At first it appears she lost more than $150,000. Her name is Edna. She'd been sending cashier's checks in a scam similar to the one Nancy's caught up in.

[00:09:40] Frank Gasper: Scammers are, they'll trick you to get initial payment from somebody. Get them to send out, or say get them to send 50 or 100, whatever they get. Anywhere from a couple hundred to 500 bucks. But once you have them, the idea that once they have somebody on the hook, it's just getting them. And there's a whole lot of different reasons why they can get people to send money.

[00:10:01] Will: Frank took a case to the US Attorney's Office that gave him the green light to investigate, so as time goes by, Frank and his team start to realize that the scope of the scam is much bigger than they imagined. They start hearing from and talking to dozens and dozens of people caught up in the scam.

[00:10:16] Frank Gasper: I spoke to every one of them on the telephone, and the big thing was on the telephone I was always trying to convince that I am actually with the FBI.

[00:10:23] Will: Right.

[00:10:24] Frank Gasper: Because they obviously got scammed off the telephone and sometimes it was a matter of getting them to stop sending money. Even after I initial talked to them, people still sent... sent money. But to speak, to meet with some of the people in person, uh it's sometimes heartbreaking to hear the stories. One of the victims I identified was a person who I contacted, is not, they didn't contact law enforcement, I contacted them. They were retired bank executive, and the person, they told me that the reason why they sent the money, they realized they were being scammed, but they had been married to this person, he was a male, he had been married to his wife for 62 years and she had recently had to gone to a nursing home. And the way they got him was uh, and he said he realized he was being scammed, but he said he had to take the chance, because they told him with the money, that surprise, you ought to afford the best kind of care in the world, to be able to take your wife from the nursing home, and she'd be able to come home. [00:11:26] And uh he over and over told me he realized he was being scammed, but he had to take that chance. And he, even after sending thousands and thousands of dollars, he had to, he had his opportunity to um, get his wife home. He had, he had to keep going after it.

[00:11:40] Will: As Frank talks to more and more victims, he discovers just how cruel, invasive, and deceitful these scammers are getting inside the lives of potential victims.

[00:11:49] Frank Gasper: What happens in this case is that these people worm their way into these very vulnerable people's lives. I mean the victims will, will receive 10, 15, 20 calls a day. They're very good in what, figuring the victim's needs. They'll know, call, talk about their victim who are very religious, they'll talk about God and they'll start talking about, they'll ask other victims, hey, um, maybe they don't have a family or maybe their family is not living near them, so they'll, they'll call them, hey, have you taken your pill? And they're nice. And oh, can you go down to the bank and just, and it's a, it's just a daily phone call where otherwise they're filling a need for the victim in the sense of their victim doesn't have a lot to do. At one point they might, it could have been a bank president, or I have a World War II fighter pilot victim, people in law enforcement, retired teachers who had, and very, some very successful people but they don't have a lot going on, and so um, these people are filling a need, in some cases they're filling a need.

[00:12:33] Will: I'm always amazed to think about that personalization of the scam, the fact that they, it always amazes me that they have to keep, they much keep records of each call and each person and know, they ask about the pill or, you know, if they've taken their medicine that day or, or what have you.

[00:13:03] Frank Gasper: Well, when you have a victim who's sending you a lot of money, I mean like I said, there's victims who have sent millions of doll--, literally a million dollars themselves, and not that these, the person I'm thinking of, not that he's a rich person, but he had a, he worked for uh, General Electric and had a, a large 401K.

[00:13:22] Will: Yeah.

[00:13:22] Frank Gasper: And they, they basically cle--, cleaned him out. I've been asked a number of times; how could people keep sending money? How could they lose so much money? Because it's for a number of different reasons. One is that it's always that hope. When you lived a middle class, upper middle class existence, and all of a sudden, you're whatever your income is in retirement, and you're in your 80s or 90s you're not, you've lost all that money. You not, it's very hard for, it's not like they can go out, you know if you're 40s and 50s and 30s you can go out and get a job. When you're in your 80s and 90s you're not going to get a job, so that money is gone. They're, they have no hope, so it's almost gam--, gambling in the sense of hey, you've got to keep the hope of hey, if I keep sending them, if I, you know, the scammer would say, all you've got to do is send a little bit more and you're going to get all your money and whatever, you'll get your money back. And so the, that's why people are able to lose so much money.

[00:14:17] Will: And as we've learned on our show, scammers will literally stop at nothing, even when the scam victims are doing everything they can to put an end to it.

[00:14:24] Frank Gasper: I've had cases where a victim has changed telephone numbers, and they've tried to break contact and they, they'll call the local police and have a, local police do a welfare check, the scammer will. And they'll have a police officer actually show up at the house of the victim, uh and then hand the victim a telephone thinking that there was a family member of the victim, and lo and behold, it's a scammer. So the big thing is to keep an eye, even after they break con--, your victim breaks contact, please keep an eye on them.

[00:14:57] Will: That's a new one. We haven't heard that. So the scammer will call the police and do a welfare check. The officer will hand the officer's phone...

[00:15:05] Frank Gasper: The phone to the victim. Sometimes they use a home phone.

[00:15:07] Will: And say like, what? Hey, call me back or we really want to talk to you?

[00:15:10] Frank Gasper: What happens is that the, you think how intimidating it is to have the elderly victim with a, a police officer in uniform and the victim's handed a telephone and hey, so and so, remember me? And they're talking right in front of the police officer. And, and, and again, I've seen police officers, a lot of times they'll call actually taxis, also um, repair people, uh, they'll call a local plumber or a local electrician. My mom's having trouble with, with some plumbing and so the plumber shows up not knowing, you know, just thinking they're going to do a job and they, of course, the victim answers their door and they go, hey, I don't have any problem. Well your, your son or daughter said...

[00:15:52] Will: Here he is.

[00:15:53] Frank Gasper: Here it is, and they'll actually hand the telephone to them.

[00:15:55] Will: Wow. As with most of the scam investigations we talk about, the hard work of finding and busting the bad guys goes on behind the scenes, weeks, months, and sometimes years of finding victims, interviewing them, owing them money, talking to banks, looking at telephone records and coming through email accounts.

[00:16:12] Frank Gasper: Literally uh serving hundreds subpoenas of financial records, eventually obtaining over 50 search warrants for a, email addresses, uh, uh computers and so forth, uh probably going over literally examining over 2 million emails.

[00:16:31] Will: And as he does that, the investigation quickly focuses in on lead lists, and the world of lead lists has its own terms, rules, and guidelines.

[00:16:40] Frank Gasper: All these scamming organizations, so their big thing is finding the victims, finding names for victims, finding targeting individuals. Uh, they'll pay upwards of $10 a name of lists, so they'll have lists of obtain, what they call a hard copy lead which is an entry blank to a sweepstakes that has, contains a telephone number. They'll pay up to $10 a name for 100 people.

[00:17:06] Will: For people who've already fallen victim to a scam?

[00:17:09] Frank Gasper: Yes, in the sense of they've fallen victim to a, they've entered, they believe they've entered into a lottery and paid anywhere from 10 to 50 dollars to enter this lottery, or receive information about lotteries.

[00:17:21] Will: So they've already made that first step, so a scammer will know, okay, these people are likely or, or possibly will, will continue to do this.

[00:17:27] Frank Gasper: Yes, they're called sweepstakes leads.

[00:17:29] Will: Okay.

[00:17:30] Frank Gasper: And so they're, they're people who are predisposed and that's what the scammers will look at and if they can get two people out of that hundred, and they've paid a thousand dollars, they've paid $10 a lead, that's a thousand dollars they paid for that lead list, and they get two people out of that list, they feel they've been successful. So you can figure out how much money they must be earning in order to cover the cost of the leads.

[00:17:50] Will: So these lead lists are like currency, and scammers buy and sell the list based on the kind of person they want to target.

[00:17:57] Frank Gasper: They want people who are over the age of 65, they have sel--, what they call selects, uh on these leads, and so they want people who are over the age of 65. They'd rather 75, but they at least want lists with people over 65, people who uh, who have entered into a sweepstakes, people who live by themselves. And they'd rather have these lists, they would like to have 70% of their list being female, uh, and they also rather have people in rural areas than cities. And I've had people from, one of the victims in this case was from New York City. I have people who were urban, too, but they want people who somehow, they can isolate them. They want peo--, and that's why they, what they're looking for. The idea is isolate them from society and then they can victimize them.

[00:18:42] Will: Another key element in the scammer's toolkit is money mules. These are the people who knowingly, sometimes unknowingly are handling the money from victims and getting it to the scammers.

[00:18:51] Frank Gasper: The, the biggest problem most of the scammers have, it's not getting victims to send money, convincing people to send money, it's how do you get the money from the United States or from Canada to Jamaica or Costa Rica or wherever that scammer's located. So that's the money laundering aspect of this case.

[00:19:07] Will: And why don't they just use like we hear about in a lot of cases with a, with a gift card or something like that, once they get the numbers on the back.

[00:19:03] Frank Gasper: Because they'll do that, but they can only do much of that money in small amounts. I know of victims who have lost over a million, a million dollars. You can't send a million dollars on a, on a gift card, so the trick is, you know, when you're talking about large amounts, amounts of money, uh, they have to figure out another way, and they have networks of people who launder the money.

[00:19:32] Will: Frank eventually talks to over 90 victims, people across the country who have fallen victim to the same group of scammers, and in December 2013, by following the money, Frank starts to unravel the thread, a possible money mule involved in the scam named Melinda Bolgin.

[00:19:47] Frank Gasper: I actually made a phone call figuring at the time she was a col--, in college in New York, I, I called, I'd subpoenaed some records, got a telephone number that she used. I called the number and I end up getting a hold of Melinda's mother. I told Melinda's mother who I was, that I was, that Melinda was involved in this scam, because I had traced victim money, other victim money going to Melinda.

[00:20:14] Will: Frank then calls Melinda's grandmother in Providence.

[00:20:17] Frank Gasper: I called them and told her, and that's where I learned how Melinda was a, was a student at Pace, and so proud of her, and I said, well ma'am I'm with the FBI and I know Melinda's involved in this. She needs to stop, and if she doesn't, she's going to get herself in trouble.

[00:20:33] Will: But almost a year and a half later, in May 2015 despite Frank's warning and attempt to get Melinda out of the money mule business, he gets a call.

[00:20:18] Frank Gasper: From a Jamaican customs official who had told me that she had uh, uh stopped Melinda Bolgin and recovered roughly $15,000 from Melinda Bolgin.

[00:20:52] Will: How did Melinda ever get tied into this organization? She's a college student.

[00:20:56] Frank Gasper: A family member was in--, was involved in Jamaica and a boyfriend of hers in Jamaica were involved in it, and got her, and that's how she got involved.

[00:21:06] Will: Had Melinda made other trips to Jamaica without being detected?

[00:21:09] Frank Gasper: Yes, I had to watch, and she actually, she, I know she carried $17,000 in another occasion to Jamaica.

[00:21:15] Will: Did she use another passport, or did she...

[00:21:17] Frank Gasper: No, she...

[00:21:17] Will: slip through?

[00:21:18] Frank Gasper: No, she used her own password. She was actually stopped at the airport. She showed the custom official that she declared the money in the United States, so they let her go.

[00:21:25] Will: So Melinda was the link to Jamaica, but she's a minor cog in the wheel, and now Frank could look for the people at the top of the scam, the ones making the real money. He hones on a group of people, all friends and family who are running the scam.

[00:21:38] Frank Gasper: It is part of a, there is a gang they, they have a, they, call it a loosely affiliated gang, yes. Uh, they have a name that they use which I don't think is public, so I don't, don't want to disclose it.

[00:21:49] Will: And for the first time in the investigation, Frank and the FBI have names.

[00:21:53] Frank Gasper: A couple people. One of them was a guy named Laveric Wollox, a couple of his brothers, uh Kasseri Gray, um, their mother.

[00:22:03] Will: A family operation.

[00:22:04] Frank Gasper: Family, it was a family operation, but and their friends, I mean it's all in Jamaica and there's a number of people. Like I said, all of them were major players in this, in this organization.

[00:22:13] Will: But this tight-knit group of family and friends is making millions scamming people back in the US.

[00:22:18] Frank Gasper: Out of the Lavic Wollox conspiracy, it's over 5.8 million dollars that I, I've identified. And that's, honestly that's only a fraction of what that organization took.

[00:22:29] Will: One of the hallmarks of the organization is the approach they'd take with victims. It's not an uncommon tactic, but it's one reason they're so successful.

[00:22:37] Frank Gasper: Never threatened them. Always leave a very positive note with the, with the victim was Willox's, one of Willox's rules, and other people in his, his organization, they realized that the good people who got a lot of money, that's what they did.

[00:22:50] Will: Finally, time comes to take action. US Marshals and Jamaican authorities line up arrest warrants and move in.

[00:22:57] Frank Gasper: Only one of them turned themselves in. All the other 13, the Jamaican authorities and the US Marshal Task Force chased down in Jamaica and arrested.

[00:23:06] Will: Oh wow, so they knew they were uh someone was looking for them.

[00:23:09] Frank Gasper: All 14 were aware that somebody was looking for them. And, and the 14th person who turned himself in, only turned himself in after the, the Jamaican authorities started looking for them and had gone to their house. And that they, she had turned themselves in, but the other 14, they were well aware that they were being arrested because their codefendants were being arrested, had been indicted and in some cases convicted, so they knew they were being sought out by the US, so they were hiding.

[00:23:35] Will: In addition to the 14 suspects picked up in Jamaica and extradited back to the states, more are arrested in the US. Overall, more than 30 people are locked up. Frank Gasper interviews almost all of the scammers behind bars.

[00:23:47] Frank Gasper: They're scammers, and one thing we've learned about fraudsters is that uh, they, they'll, whatever is good for them. What I found they're always contrite but what's real contrite and what's just trying to make uh, someone feel like a uh, they really do feel bad, uh, so it's, it's hard, you know, they're fraudsters.

[00:24:08] Will: And out of all of those people who were arrested and extradited, only two of them go to trial. The others all make pleas and avoid a trial by jury. Laveric Willox was the kingpin of the operation, pled guilty in 2017 to avoid a 20 year sentence. He got 6 years.

[00:24:22] Frank Gasper: I have recovered some money for victims, money I seized from bank accounts, money I seized through Jamaican authorities that we were able to get back to people, but uh, the victims themselves, they personally have not been able to recover. We have, through some court process been able to recover some money, you know, and that's an ongoing process in trying to get the money back to the victims.

[00:24:44] Will: Melinda Bolgin, college student turned money mule was found guilty of 15 counts of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering. She's not yet been sentenced. And as is so common in these cases, the money is, for the most part, gone. And Nancy, who we told you about at the beginning of the story, is one of the victims who testified at the trial.

[00:25:04] Will: So how does it all make you feel as you look back upon all this. You got to testify, you, you lost money, but you've gotten some back, but you were the victim of a scam.

[00:25:12] Nancy: Yes, and I, you know I'm determined that these kind of people are going to pay the price.

[00:25:17] Frank Gasper: We're not going to be able to get all these people, there's just so many of them. The big thing is try to prevent people being victimized. To understand, get the word out that hey, there are no lotteries. You never have to send money in to get money. If people call you, you haven't won anything; hang up the phone. I, I can't emphasize that enough. Hang up the phone. Don't be nice, don't, just hang up the phone. You haven't won. You can get 100 calls from 100 different people in which these people do, they literally get calls from 100 different groups. That's one of the reasons why they think they've won, because they get so many calls. But you haven't won anything.

[00:25:56] Will: So Frank, this was a massive law enforcement effort to track down some of the bad guys in this story. One interesting part of it that we've heard in other scam stories is that getting the money to scammers, they often use someone like Melinda, a mule.

[00:26:12] Frank Abagnale: Yeah, I mean mules are used a lot by criminals, so when they steal millions of credit card numbers or debit card numbers and create fake debit cards, obviously not one individual can go out and get all this money and drain all of these ATM machines, so you hire people who simply go do that, and they get a cut, or a very small percentage for going out and doing it. But they're the ones that are exposed. The actual criminal is never exposed, people are doing it for him. So you know, when I wrote checks, it was just me. Today check forgers hire a bunch of mules to go pass all the checks at all the stores, it's their picture being taken, it's their information that's being ca--, captured, uh and not the criminal's. So criminals have always used mules, so it doesn't surprise anyone in a scam like this that they would use mules to be able to move that money and get that money back to them.

[00:27:02] Will: And sometimes the mules are innocent. They don't know what's going on.

[00:27:05] Frank Abagnale: Sometimes there's scams like you see in the newspaper all the time where they'll tell you that you can earn a lot of money making these phone calls, or you can earn a lot of money buying gifts for people, and so on, those are all scams, but they're using those innocent people to commit those crimes for them.

[00:27:19] Will: It is often like a very organized, it's like a corporation the way some of these scams are set up in that they're, whether, whether it's a call center and there's all sorts of scams, but the call center, then there's lead lists, then there's mules. I mean there's all these levels of hierarchy if you will.

[00:27:32] Frank Abagnale: Absolutely.

[00:27:34] Will: All right, Frank, we will be back next week. Thanks for joining us again. This week we'll have a, a new scam, new stories, new advice next week.

[00:27:40] Will: If you or someone you know has been the victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Thank you to my team of scambusters, producers Julie Getz and Brook Ellis, our audio engineer, Julio Gonzales, and of course, my cohost, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP - The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson.

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