From NBC MIAMI
It seems hard to believe anyone would fall for this scam: Someone from a foreign country claims you’ve won millions, but first you must pay steep fees before you get your winnings.
Unfortunately, the lure of big money is just too much for some to resist.
A Pembroke Pines widow named Mary Kubalak wired nearly $400,000 to her scammer in Jamaica, home to a thriving telemarketing fraud industry that brings in hundreds of millions of illicit U.S. dollars every year.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Miami, Jamaica’s top organized crime investigator, Senior Superintendent Fitz Bailey, says unscrupulous employees of legitimate telemarketing centers – even some in Miami – sell lists of phone numbers to the scammers who target the elderly.
American police often do almost nothing to pursue the bad guys.
So NBC Miami went looking for Mary’s money. Our search took us deep into the dark streets of Kingston, winding treacherous mountain roads, through chaotic Montego Bay far from tourist areas, to the Jamaica that never gets in the travel brochures.
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But our story began last summer in a Broward courthouse hallway, where Mary Kubalak was judged to be incapacitated for believing she’d won a $7 million Jamaica lottery.
“I could not convince her,” said her financial advisor David Treece. “Nobody could convince her. It’s a sad, tough case.”
Treece took his own client to court to stop her from sending money to her Jamaican scammer.
They had convinced her she must pay fees to get her millions. Over the months, she wired thousands of dollars time and time again, until she sent more than $370,000 to Chris Andre Dehaney, according to documents and sources.
We used Mary’s phone records to call the scammer last summer, who posed as a woman.
“If I knew how to take Mary’s $35,000, honest to God I would!” Dehaney declared in his female voice.
So we went to Jamaica to confront Dehaney, not knowing what we’d face. Our source said Dehaney lived inside a gated community in Portmore, just outside Kingston, where inside he ran his broad scam.
We told the security guard at the entrance to Caribbean Estates “This guy is suspected of stealing $370,000, maybe $400,000, from one old woman in Miami. We’d really like to catch this guy.”
Guards remember him. We even knew exactly which townhouse he’s renting. But property managers blocked our entry and insisted he no longer lives there. The trail grew cold.
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In Jamaica, secretive fraudulent telemarketing is an industry, a cartel. And the incredible wealth it brings also brings with it crime and violence. Police say nearly 300 murders were related to lottery scammers in one year alone, prior to a crackdown.
“The proceeds from the lottery scam in Jamaica is used to purchase guns, ammunition,” said Superintendent Bailey.
Our search for Chris Andre Dehaney heated up again when a license plate for a car he drove was linked to an address on the other side of the Jamaican mountains. So we followed an unmarked police vehicle along hours of twisting dangerous mountain roads. We checked in with local police who told us the address is on a nearby street.
“Do you recognize this guy?” we asked homeowners there. No one could be sure.
So we checked Armstrong Terrace from end to end and, as best we could tell, 30 Armstrong Terrace is a vacant lot. Another dead end.
Prosecutions of lottery scammers in Jamaica have slowed because embarrassed, or scared, or senile Americans don’t want to come to Jamaica to testify. Lesser charges often don’t stick.
The real answer, says Superintendent Bailey, is extraditing lottery scammers to America’s federal courts.
“Because Jamaicans are afraid to be extradited to the United States,” he says. “Any evidence, we will supply it. We will, we can do so much from our end.”
Our search lead us to Montego Bay’s gritty downtown, where Dehaney used to work at Maxie’s department store. But co-workers had no new address for him.
We learned an upscale neighborhood is where the lottery scammers like to rent expensive homes. The stone crusher gang, they’re called. In fact, police say they’ve conducted more than 30 raids on homes just in this area, all connected with the lottery scam.
But without an address, we couldn’t find Dehaney here. So we resorted to contacting Dehaney directly via his cellphone and his Facebook page, even though it tipped him off to us. We didn’t expect him to call us back, but it was certainly worth one last try.
Then suddenly, the phone rang, and it was Dehaney.
“I know exactly what’s going on in Jamaica with lottery scam,” he said.
We confront Dehaney with the allegation he stole $370,000 from Mary Kubalak.
“I’ve never spoken with Mary before,” he answers. “I’ve never spoken to you before. I’ve never even been to America before. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just wasting my time here with you.”
His words are vulger and taunting. And he implies he’ll shoot us between the eyes.
After it’s proposed we meet face to face so he can deny the allegation, he agrees to meet us in six. hours in Kingston.
Jamaicans are proud of their island nation, but the lottery scam industry is embarassing them too.
“Our image has been affected significantly by that,” said Superintendent Bailey. “I mean, you dial a number in the United States and a 1-876 number and the customers wonders…if it’s a scam. At the same time, we believe that the citizens of America and Americans, unfortunately, are too, shall I use the term, gullible.”
Meanwhile, we are to meet Dehaney in Tivoli Garden. When we arrive, we see it’s a slum. Even our cab driver was eager to leave.
The address at 2222 Tivoli Garden is a housing project. It doesn’t look like Dehaney gave us an actual address.
In the end, the shadowy world of organized crime in Jamaica kept a cover on Chris Andre Dehaney. We learn he’s avoided conviction for stealing more than $3 million from other Americans in the lottery scam. “A main player,” he’s called in The Gleaner newspaper.
And when we show our stories to Superintendent Bailey, he makes a startling pledge.
“We are going to find him wherever he is,” he said. “We will use everything we have in our powers to find him and we will prosecute him.”
U.S. authorities have not followed through on a pledge to extradite more Jamaican scammers.
Pembroke Pines police opened a case on Mary’s money but never got very far.
Thanks to Treece, that financial advisor, Mary no longer has access to her money and has enough to live on.