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Jamaican lottery fraudster gets 20 years

BISMARCK -- For his role in aiding Jamaican scammers to bilk at least 80 Americans of more than $5 million dollars, Sanjay Williams on Tuesday was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

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BISMARCK -- For his role in aiding Jamaican scammers to bilk at least 80 Americans of more than $5 million dollars, Sanjay Williams on Tuesday was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.

"In this country, unlike Jamaica, Mr. Williams, we treat these as serious offenses," said U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland, who criticized Jamaica for its lax prosecution of scammers and the comparatively light sentences given to them.

Hovland pronounced the sentence after a two-hour hearing, which at times turned contentious as Williams argued with the judge, his attorney Charles Stock and FBI special agent Frank Gasper.

A federal jury convicted Williams, of Montego Bay, Jamaica, in May on 35 counts of conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering. Williams' co-defendant Lavrick Willocks also has been charged but has not yet been extradited to the United States.

For years, Williams compiled lead lists, also called sucker lists, which contained names, addresses and phone numbers of potential targets for scammers. Scammers use those lists to peddle stories of big lottery winnings in order to defraud their often elderly victims of thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars.

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Two of those victims testified on Tuesday, including 86-year-old Edna Schmeets, of Harvey, N.D.,  whose case eventually led federal investigators to Williams.

In tears, Schmeets told Hovland about the pain inflicted by being scammed, "not only financially. It's emotionally."

"It's like they almost hypnotize you. You just do what they ask you to do," she said. "I have nothing left."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Clare Hochhalter said Hovland would be setting precedent with his sentence.

"This is the first case of its kind where a lead list developer has been tried in the United States," said Hochhalter, pointing out that Jamaican lottery scams have ruined lives, and, in at least one case, have cost a life as well.

Hochhalter had Gasper recount a time when federal agents went to question a 72-year-old victim only to learn that she had hung herself.

"One of these victims couldn't take it anymore," Hochhalter said.

Gasper said Jamaican authorities are still unsure where Williams lived in Jamaica.

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When given the chance to speak on his own behalf, Williams accused the U.S. government of duplicity and Gasper of committing perjury. He repeatedly denied the allegations against him and continued to shake his head when Hovland delivered his findings.

Hovland called Williams the most stubborn defendant he has ever seen, questioning Williams insistence on wearing a prison jumpsuit to trial and ignoring his attorney's advice.

Hovland also said Williams failed to show remorse for his actions.

"I was expecting, at some extent, some apology," Hovland said.

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