DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — An Iowa jury began deliberating Friday after hearing over four days the complex story of how a lottery security officer allegedly fixed the Hot Lotto game in 2010 to get himself a winning ticket for a $14 million jackpot and then attempted to cash it anonymously.
Eddie Tipton of Norwalk, Iowa, is charged with two counts of fraud, which carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison each. His trial started Monday. Jurors started their talks around noon Friday and went home around 5 p.m. They’ll resume Monday.
Tipton denies he bought the ticket and said he wasn’t even in Iowa on Dec. 23, 2010, when it was bought at a Des Moines area convenience store. He also denies he fixed a secure lottery computer that only a few people had access to 39 days earlier with a program to pick the set of numbers that hit the Hot Lotto jackpot.
His attorney, Dean Stowers, said there’s no proof Tipton altered the random-number generating computer — only a state theory that it’s possible and the fact that Tipton had access to the computer room.
Stowers said convenience store surveillance video of a man buying the ticket is so fuzzy that jurors will likely have enough doubt about that alone to find him not guilty. Stowers presented Tipton’s sister and brothers to testify that the man in the video wasn’t their sibling. The attorney told jurors in closing arguments Friday that the state’s case is a lot of theory and speculation but little real evidence.
State prosecutors allege Tipton bought the ticket and then drove to Texas and gave it to Robert Rhodes, a longtime friend who in turn contacted acquaintances in Texas and Canada who tried unsuccessfully to cash it.
“Is there any evidence in this case Mr. Tipton passed a lottery ticket? If so where, when and to whom?” Stowers said. “Let’s look at the answers the evidence gives us about that. A big fat zero, nothing, nada, zippo. Just speculation.”
But Assistant Iowa Attorney General Rob Sand characterized the case as a “21st century inside job.” He said Tipton had the access, ability and opportunity to put a program into the lottery’s random-number generating computer to pick a specific set of figures and win the jackpot. The program called a root kit can delete itself, making it untraceable, Sand said.
Sand called as witnesses friends and former coworkers of Tipton to testify that the voice and appearance of the man in a coat and hood who bought two hotdogs and lottery tickets at a Des Moines convenience store was him. The prosecutor also presented as evidence bank and cellphone records that indicate Tipton was in Iowa on the afternoon the ticket was purchased.
Tipton had worked for the Multi-State Lottery Association since 2003 and was promoted to information security director in 2013. The nonprofit association is operated by 37 mostly state-run lotteries to oversee picking numbers and other lottery game administrative functions.
As an employee of a lottery vendor, Tipton was prohibited from playing the lottery. He was fired after his January arrest.
The winning Hot Lotto ticket hadn’t surfaced for nearly a year and as it was about to expire in December 2011 when two attempts were made to redeem the jackpot, one by a retired Canadian attorney and the other by an attorney from New York. Both refused to disclose the buyer of the ticket and no jackpot was ever paid. Iowa law prohibits the lottery from paying jackpots anonymously.
Iowa prosecutors have charged Tipton’s friend Robert Rhodes with fraud. He is fighting extradition to Iowa from Texas and did not testify. Rhodes’ attorney, Lloyd Kelly, said Rhodes is appealing the attempts from Iowa prosecutors to extradite him and he remains free on bond.
The attorneys who tried to cash the ticket have not been charged and deny any wrongdoing.
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