Jan 31, 2006, 6:06 pm
Is the Indiana Lottery vulnerable to inside tampering?
By Kevin Leininger
Fort Wayne News Sentinel
You'd think Jim Grimes would be happy.
After all, the retired Noble County engineer, whose concerns about the integrity of the Hoosier Lottery were the subject of a column in June 2004, helped spark an investigation that led to three indictments in an alleged million-dollar scam. But, if anything, Grimes is even more frustrated than he was when we first talked nearly two years ago - even though he is no longer willing to lose money to a game he still believes is rigged.
"I don't take any satisfaction from charges being filed," Grimes said from his home in Kimmell, about 35 miles northwest of Fort Wayne. "They stopped short of investigating everything we brought up."
Two years ago, the crux of Grimes' complaint was this: When the lottery in 2001 stopped using pingpong balls to select numbers and started using a computer instead, his mathematically precise method of predicting winners was no longer so successful. Using a computer, he believed, allowed lottery officials to know which numbers were being played, by how many people, and where - making it possible to limit the state's payout by manipulating the computer's supposedly "random" number selections.
Not long after my column appeared, Grimes called and said he had been in touch with two police investigators from Marion County. Would I be willing to meet with them?
No journalist could turn down an offer like that. So, a few days later, I met in The News-Sentinel offices with Grimes, Thomas Trathen of the Marion County prosecutor's office and Sgt. Michael Thayer of the Indianapolis Police Department. They seemed very interested in what Grimes had to say. They took lots of notes; we shook hands, and they left.
And nothing happened. Or so it seemed.
Then, in the first week of November 2004, a team of investigators acting under the authority of Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi searched the lottery's offices in downtown Indianapolis and arrested three men on charges they had conspired to claim a scratch-off ticket worth $1 million.
Police say William C. Foreman used his inside knowledge as a lottery official to learn which retail outlet had received a winning ticket in the $2 million "Bonus Spectacular Game." Foreman then allegedly told accomplices Chad Adkins and Daniel Foltz to buy the entire supply of tickets - worth about $700 - from a store in Cross Plains.
Adkins and Foltz, both of Shelby County, redeemed the ticket, which would have paid each of them $25,000 per year for 20 years.
If they had not already agreed to plead guilty and testify against Foreman, that is. If convicted, Foreman could face up to 50 years in prison - the harshest penalty imposed by any state for breeching lottery security. Lottery Executive Director Esther Schneider, however, thinks the punishment would fit the crime.
"You're talking about someone who cheated somebody out of $1 million," she said. "It's not the same as rape or incest, but it is like Enron."
Even though the indictments are not directly linked to Grimes' contention that computer-generated winning numbers aren't really drawn randomly, Thayer said Grimes' concerns were helpful nonetheless.
"When we started asking questions, other people brought other things to us," he said.
Although Grimes believes the lottery continues to manipulate numbers to limit payouts, Thayer and Schneider insist his suspicions are baseless. "We've spent $1 million on security so players know the system is fair. My integrity and reputation is invested in this," said Schneider, who took over the job a year ago.
"This was a one-time situation," Thayer said.
Grimes remains skeptical, however. If an unscrupulous lottery official could allegedly hand-pick winners, what other abuses might be possible, he wonders.
But Schneider said the security changes she's made should prevent a recurrence of what Foreman supposedly did. Access to winning numbers is more strictly controlled now, with multiple layers of oversight, and no one can see the numbers until the game is closed.
Attorney Jack Crawford, the lottery's first director, is defending Foreman against the state's "unconstitutionally" harsh penalties.
"I find that very ironic," Schneider said.
Grimes no doubt would choose a stronger word.
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