CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Two Jamaican nationals have been sentenced to federal prison for their role in a sweepstakes scam that targeted elderly individuals across the United States.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina announced Tuesday that Tyrell Harris, 32, and Errol Durrant, 60, were each sentenced to more than five years in prison.
“The District of South Carolina is committed to prosecuting scams that target vulnerable citizens,” United States Attorney Adair F. Boroughs said. “ We appreciate the hard work of our federal agency partners and the continued efforts to investigate these crimes.”
Prosecutors said Harris, Durrant, and other co-conspirators would contact elderly victims and falsely tell them they had won sweepstakes, but in order to claim the prizes — cash, a new vehicle, etc. — they needed to pay “bogus” fees or taxes.
Evidence presented in court showed that the victims purchased prepaid cards, postal service money orders, bank money orders, and mailed cash and personal checks to the defendants, a news release states.
Then, according to prosecutors, the defendants would wire the fraudulent funds to co-conspirators in Jamaica to be dispersed amongst various bank accounts.
Harris and Durrant reportedly received more than $1.7 million from at least 70 victims across 15 U.S. states as a result of the scheme.
“These individuals preyed on some of the most vulnerable members in our community,” Tommy D. Coke, Inspector in Charge of the Atlanta Division said. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and our law enforcement partners will continue our commitment to protect our citizens and bring those responsible for these illegal schemes to justice.”
Harris was sentenced to 90 months in federal prison, while Durrant was sentenced to 80 months in prison. Both prison sentences are to be followed by a three-year term of court-ordered supervision and the defendants are required to pay $1,700,512.90 in restitution, prosecutors said.
“This sentence is the result of great work by HSI and our partners at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to bring these criminals to justice,” Ronnie Martinez, Special Agent in Charge for HSI Charlotte, which covers North and South Carolina said. “These types of crimes can have devastating effects on the elderly and HSI will aggressively pursue criminal prosecution to dismantle Transnational Criminal Organizations, both domestically and internationally, to bring justice to the victims.”
The case was investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service and Homeland Security Investigatins.
Nearly 2,400 individuals over the age of 60 were targeted by sweepstakes scams in 2022, resulting in more than $69 million in total losses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.