Ekyama Ebony Harris
A husband and wife in Hazelwood are in federal custody on conspiracy charges. These charges are related to telephone scams that fool elderly victims into sending money to scammers who then ship it to Jamaica.
Ashani Ishmael Levy and wife Ekeyma Ebony Harris, who are originally from Jamaica, were arrested last week. They are being held pending a hearing in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
Lottery, sweepstakes and telephone scams originating from the Caribbean nation have long targeted older U.S. citizens who are typically tricked into sending money on the promise of having won millions in some contest or another.
A good chunk of the money they wire or mail for “processing fees” often ends up back in Jamaica.
The latest investigation started Nov. 17 when an 80-year-old woman in Longmont, Colo., told police there that she was a victim.
She said that two days earlier she got a call from “Rayman Harris” saying she’d won $17 million in the Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. He told her to send $810 for fees and taxes to “David Miller” at 105 Imogene Road in Pittsburgh. She did.
The next day she got another call from someone named “James Holliday,” who sounded a lot like “Rayman Harris,” who told her to send another $6,800 to the same address. She did that, too.
She then got another call, this time from a woman, who asked for another $16,000. This time she got wise and didn’t send anything because she thought it was a scam.
She told police the area code of the incoming numbers on her caller ID was based in Jamaica and that the people she spoke to all sounded Jamaican.
A Pittsburgh police officer went to the Imogene Road house and talked to a woman there who said her name was Jacqulen Henry. But the officer noticed she was nervous and wouldn’t let him in, and he also spotted a U.S. Postal Service bag inside a duffel bag on the porch.
Postal inspectors discovered that 15 packages had been sent to the address since June through priority mail or express mail.
In an affidavit, they said at least one of them was connected to an earlier fraud of which they were aware. In that instance, an 89-year-old in Arizona had sent $8,000 to “John Bolder” at the Imogene address.
Inspectors intercepted that package on Oct. 26 and said a man had entered the East Liberty post office to claim an envelope for his “cousin,” whose name he didn’t know. Postal workers wouldn’t give him the package and he left.
On Nov. 20, inspectors went back to the East Liberty post office to take custody of the package sent by the 80-year-old in Colorado. A records check indicated that the Imogene address was associated with Ms. Harris and that someone had used the postal service website to track the package 200 times, including some searches from computers in Jamaica.
Inspectors removed the $6,800 from the envelope, replaced it with some sham material and sealed it back up for a controlled delivery on Nov. 21 to the Imogene address.
Inspectors said Ms. Harris accepted the package. Law officers then swept in to arrest her and search the house, discovering Western Union receipts indicating wire transfers to Jamaica.
Inspectors said Ms. Harris told them that she and Mr. Levy had moved to Hazelwood in June and that they had been sending between 10 percent and 25 percent of cash received from scams back to Jamaica. She said she knew what they were doing was illegal and that she had told her husband to stop, according to inspectors.
Law officers arrested Mr. Levy later that day as he was getting into a car outside the house.