CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa --- Terry Rich would love to know the story behind the winner of a lottery jackpot walking away from a ticket valued at $7.5 million after taxes.
“It’s the only time we can find anywhere in world lottery history that somebody won a major jackpot and gave it up,” Rich said Aug. 8.
Although there have been cases of people not claiming a jackpot because they lost their winning ticket, “No one has ever claimed it, had the hoopla, and then said, ‘OK, we don’t want it. Bye,’” Rich said.
However, Rich, the director of the Iowa Lottery, and a Department of Criminal Investigation agent involved in the case say the odds of solving the mystery may be no better than 50-50.
The mystery, which has led to discussions of a movie, began with a Hot Lotto ticket with an after-tax value of $7.5 million that matched the grand-prize numbers drawn on Dec. 29, 2010. It wasn’t turned in until a year later -- less than two hours before the jackpot was slated to expire -- bearing the name of a New York attorney who was acting on behalf of a Belize-based investment trust.
The attorney ultimately withdrew his claim after Lottery officials said they would not pay the money unless he answered their questions.
After “hitting the investigation hot and heavy,” DCI Special Agent-in-Charge Patrick Townsend, said the case is at something of a standstill as they await the results of subpoenas issued for telephone and email records of “people of interest.”
The investigation, he added, has not pointed toward any involvement by Iowa Lottery employees.
“There was nothing to lead us in that direction,” Townsend said.
Whether they strike pay dirt with the subpoenas or people come forward with new information, Townsend doubts investigators will lose interest in the case.
“It’s been one of the more interesting cases,” he said. “There have been a lot of turns, a lot of ‘Wow, that’s interesting’ moments.”
Whether the case is solved, Rich believes the Lottery has handled it properly and is confident the integrity and security of the Lottery has been preserved.
“The bottom line is we kept the money,” he said.
It will give away $1 million of it at the Iowa State Fair, which starts Aug. 9.
The case has spawned numerous theories. Although cautious not to say anything that would interfere with the investigation, Rich dismissed the idea the ticketholder was underage.
“I don’t believe that’s the case based on what I know,” he said.
Another theory is the winning ticket was taken from the purchaser after he bragged about his jackpot.
“They usually have loose lips,” Rich said. “Maybe they showed it to someone (who) took the ticket and said, ‘Good-bye,’ and disposed of that person.”
Still another theory centers around a ticket purchased illegally through an international syndicate with the parties walking away from the jackpot rather than answer the Lottery’s questions.
There still are a couple of people who claim the winning ticket was stolen from them. That’s not Rich’s problem.
“Under the law, as I understand it, they have to sue the guy in New York because he was the one who claimed it,” he said.
Regardless where the subpoenas lead, Rich said the story may take on a life of its own.
His office has fielded inquiries from people interested in making a movie about the Hot Lotto ticket mystery. There’s nothing definite and Rich hasn’t given a lot of thought to which actor should play him.
“The ones that come to mind are Ed Asner or Robert Redford, but they’re old,” he joked. “But I guess I am too.”