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Hot Lotto case moves to jury for deliberations

Jul 17, 2015, 8:53 pm

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Hot Lotto

Attorneys gave their closing arguments Friday in the fraud case against a former lottery vendor employee accused of manipulating a Hot Lotto drawing to win a $14.3 million ticket.

Eddie Tipton, 52, is being tried on two counts of fraud. He has been accused of buying the winning Hot Lotto ticket at a Des Moines QuikTrip on Dec. 23, 2010. Tipton was defined by Iowa law as a prohibited player in his former position as the information security director for the Multi-State Lottery Association, or MUSL.

Tipton has also been accused of using a self-deleting rootkit to rig the game in his favor. The prosecution claims Tipton enlisted the help of other people in an attempt to claim the prize, which never was awarded because of Iowa Lottery's security protocols.

Witness testimonies began in the case Tuesday and ended Thursday. On Friday morning, Assistant Attorney General Rob Sand and defense lawyer Dean Stowers gave their closing arguments to the jury.

The crime was a "21st century inside job," Sand said. He argued that it's not a coincidence "he bought it, won the jackpot, that it was record jackpot for the Hot Lotto game, that the Hot Lotto game is the biggest (random number generating) game that MUSL has and it was a manual play ticket."

"Those things are not coincidences. They are clues in a set of circumstances that assists you in proving the defendant guilty as charged on both accounts," Sand said.

The prosecution has accused Tipton of installing a rootkit onto a random number generating computer in the draw room at MUSL when he was in the room to change the clock on the computer Nov. 20, 2010.

Tipton stuck a USB drive into the computer and installed a rootkit that manipulated the draw, the state says. The rootkit then self-destructed without a trace.

The prosecution claims Tipton bought the winning ticket Dec. 23, 2010, and then drove to Texas. Investigators claim Tipton passed on that ticket to his friend, Robert Clark Rhodes II, 46, of Sugarland, Texas. Rhodes was arrested by Texas police on two counts of fraud March 20.

The winning ticket then made its way into the hands of Philip Johnston, a man who lives in Canada, according to the prosecution. Johnston tried to claim the ticket, but Iowa Lottery officials refused because Johnston didn't match the description of the man seen buying the winning ticket.

Crawford Shaw, a New York lawyer, received the ticket and contacted Julie Johnson McClean, an attorney at Davis Brown Law Firm in Iowa. Johnson McClean represented Hexham Investments Trust when it attempted to claim the Hot Lotto prize through Shaw, as the trustee of Hexham, about an hour before the ticket was set to expire in 2011.

Lottery officials again refused to award the prize because the purchaser of the ticket never stepped forward. Johnson McClean said in court that she had spoken to both Johnston and Shaw but never the trust's primary beneficiary.

"At the end of this whole story, somebody doesn't want to be known," Sand said. "Somebody doesn't want to be conected to it. They don't want their identity revealed."

Tipton's co-workers and friends testified Tipton was the man shown buying the winning ticket. DCI investigators also found bank and phone records indicating Tipton was in the Des Moines area Dec. 23, 2010. Phone records further showed several phone calls between Tipton and Rhodes in November and December 2010.

Sand reminded the jurors how their jury instructions said they can make deductions and reach conclusions based on common sense and reason. The law does not make a distinction between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence, which is evidence about a chain of facts showing the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

The facts given in the case all lead to one explanation, Sand said.

"The explanation is the defendant is guilty as charged in this 21st century inside job," Sand said.

The state's argument lacks evidence and is based on speculation, Stowers said during his closing argument. Stowers talked about how the burden of proof lies with the state and Tipton is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

It is not a criminal offense for a prohibited player, like Tipton, to buy a lottery ticket under Iowa law. The state needed to prove for the first fraud count that Tipton passed the lottery ticket or attempted to redeem it with the specific intent to defraud.

If jurors have a reasonable doubt that Tipton bought the ticket, then "I would just suggest your deliberations are essentially at an end and you must return a verdict of not guilty," Stowers said.

Tipton's three siblings testified the man shown in the security footage was not Tipton. They said in court that the ticket's purchaser was smaller than Tipton and also appeared to have a beard, which they said Tipton did not.

Stowers reminded jurors of photos that showed a clean-shaven Tipton before and after the date the prosecution says he bought the ticket.

The state provided just speculation, not proof, that Tipton passed on the ticket with the intent to defraud, Stowers said. He described it as "just a guessing game."

"We're supposed to fill in these big gray areas," Stowers said.

For the second fraud count, the state needed to prove the defendant "intentionally tampered with a computer that housed the random number generator program for the Hot Lott prize" and "that computer was lottery equipment," according to jury instructions. The prosecution also needed to prove Tipton intended to influence the winning of the Hot Lotto prize.

Stowers described how the state presented no forensic evidence from the computer that showed the machine had been tampered with.

"If you're in that gray area, that uncertain zone — we're not sure what the facts are, we still don't know, this is still a mystery — then they haven't proven their case," Stowers said. "If you're in that position, folks, that is the definition of a reasonable doubt and if you're there, and I think you're there on this case, on this evidence, then you have to do two things: return the two verdict forms that say not guilty."

Closing arguments ended shortly before noon. The case was then turned over to the jury for deliberations. Jurors adjourned for the day at about 4:30 p.m. Friday. They will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Monday.

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