Fargo - A woman accused of helping a man who was convicted for spearheading a Jamaican lottery scam that bilked dozens of mostly elderly people out of their retirement savings has pleaded not guilty.
Melinda Bulgin, of Providence, Rhode Island, made her first appearance in federal court Wednesday for a hearing on numerous charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. A trial date has not been set.
Authorities say Bulgin handled money on behalf of Lavrick Willocks and Sanjay Williams, described as leaders of two separate scamming operations based in Jamaica. Williams was found guilty in May; Willocks has been charged but not extradited to the United States.
Bulgin's attorney, Kevin Chapman, and federal prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment.
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Jamaican lottery scams have been happening for years, but are rarely prosecuted as widely as the North Dakota case. It began when an FBI agent from North Dakota interviewed a Harvey woman who said she lost close to $300,000 in the scam. The investigation led authorities to about 70 people throughout the country who were defrauded out a total of more than $5 million.
An FBI affidavit shows that someone in Wisconsin was instructed to send cashier's checks for nearly $34,000 to Bulgin, including two checks payable to her and one check payable to her mother. A person from Arizona allegedly wired Bulgin $25,000 after scammers said the money was needed to cover federal taxes for a $5 million prize, documents said.
Williams faces sentencing in October. Authorities say he was primarily a "lead broker" in the scam who bought and sold "sucker lists" of potential victims.
Bulgin sent at least three wire transfers to people who worked for Williams as "runners" to pick up the money, according to court documents.