Jamaican lottery scams reach wide

Thousands of dollars allegedly conned across US

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Yanique Mendez

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Cartina Graham

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Simon Guthrie

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Troy Cox

— Four Routt County residents accused of taking part in a Jamaican lottery scam were part of a wide-ranging network that bilked dozens of people across the country out of tens of thousands of dollars, according to arrest warrants filed in Routt County District Court.

Evidence, charges and information continue to pour in from investigators, who say the ongoing investigation is being done cooperatively with federal law enforcement agencies.

Steamboat Springs residents Troy Cox, Yanique Mendez, Simon Guthrie and Catrina Graham were arrested in May, and each face felony charges of violating Colorado's Organized Crime Act, in addition to other charges.

The preliminary hearing for Cox and Mendez was continued Thursday. Their attorneys recently received more than a thousand pages of discovery from investigators. Routt County Judge James Garrecht agreed to the continuance and set a new preliminary hearing for July 13.

"They targeted elderly people, telling them they won either the Jamaican or Australian lottery," Routt County Deputy District Attorney Carl Stahl said.

The suspects are accused of telling victims they would first have to pay "reduced taxes" of as much as $60,000 to claim their prize of as much as $5 million. The letters were followed by phone calls to the victims. The total amount allegedly taken from victims is unknown.

Guthrie's arrest warrant indicates the victims, often elderly, lived across the country. Alleged victims are named in Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas and Denver, among other places.

Stahl said most targeted people identified the scam as a fake, but some bought into the alleged scheme and paid large sums of money in hopes of collecting the fake lottery winnings.

In one case, a woman reported that her 83-year-old grandfather who lives in Michigan sent as much as $66,000 to various addresses after being told he won $5 million in the Jamaican lottery. According to the arrest warrant, the man was instructed to send payments to Guthrie's Steamboat mailing address. The victim then received a letter claiming to be from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. That letter informed the victim that the money he sent to Guthrie was being used to support international terrorism and that if the victim told anyone about the payments, he would be arrested. The letter also directed him to send additional money to addresses in New York, Florida and Las Vegas in order to avoid arrest and prosecution for aiding terrorists, according to the warrant.

Stahl said the suspects likely purchased a mailing list to contact potential victims.

It is not clear whether any of the victims of the alleged scam lived in Steamboat, but Guthrie's arrest warrant indicates several Steamboat residents were targeted by smaller scams conducted by the same suspects. That includes credit card fraud and thefts of several thousand dollars, according to the arrest warrant.

Randall Salky, Mendez's attorney, said he has received about 1,400 pages of documents from Steamboat Springs investigators, as well as some from state agencies. Salky said that even with the continuance, he doubts the hearing, or a trial, will happen in Routt County.

"To be honest with you, in reality, I think that it's not really going to go forward because it sounds like the federal government is going to have an indictment before that date," he said.

Salky said that, generally speaking, when the federal government passes down an indictment, the state will dismiss charges and allow the federal prosecution to proceed.

Stahl said he was aware of only one other arrest in the case - a person who allegedly received money in Jamaica - despite the long list of accomplices listed in the arrest warrant prepared by Steamboat Springs Police Department investigators.

Cox, Mendez, Guthrie and Graham are charged with violation of the Colorado Organized Crime Act, a Class 2 felony. Cox also has been charged with three counts of theft; Mendez with two counts of conspiracy to commit theft and nine counts of theft; Graham with two counts of conspiracy to commit theft; and Guthrie with four counts of theft.

All four suspects remain in custody at Routt County Jail.

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