IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa investigators have subpoenaed phone and email records in an attempt to unravel the mystery behind a winning $14.3 million lottery ticket that was withdrawn after the winner refused to be identified, the agent overseeing the wide-ranging inquiry told The Associated Press.
Patrick Townsend, special-agent-in-charge with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said investigators remain unable to identify the person who bought the Hot Lotto ticket in December 2010 at a Des Moines gas station. The purchase set in motion a bizarre series of events that has fascinated Iowans and generated worldwide attention.
A New York lawyer claiming to represent the winning trust waited until minutes before the one-year deadline to claim the prize on Dec. 29, 2011, then withdrew the claim weeks later rather than explain how he wound up with the ticket.
“I wish I could tell you it was solved. It is intriguing and has a lot of twists and turns,” Townsend said in a phone interview Monday. “This is not a normal or typical case. It has some different aspects to it. We’ve definitely taken the time to look at a lot of those things and see where the leads take us.”
Iowa Lottery CEO Terry Rich has said the case appears to be the only time in lottery history when someone has stepped forward with a winning ticket before walking away from the jackpot. Iowa DCI launched an investigation a year ago into whether a crime was committed in the purchase or possession of the ticket.
Townsend said that agents under his supervision are still actively working the case. Most recently, he said they have issued subpoenas for phone and email records as they “try to connect the dots to a couple more leads.”
“We’re trying to link communication to some specific people who we think might be part of this,” he said. “… If we knew who bought the ticket, then we’d be a lot further down the road.”
Townsend said investigators have surveillance footage from the gas station showing the purchase but want to “exhaust all leads” before releasing it to ask for the public’s help. He said divulging the video could invite false claims and expose some key details, such as how the person was dressed and paid for the ticket.
Crawford Shaw, the 77-year-old lawyer from Bedford, N.Y. who has been the public face of the mystery, again declined Tuesday to say how he obtained the ticket. Shaw signed the ticket on behalf of Hexham Investments Trust, claiming he was its sole trustee. He shipped the ticket by FedEx one day before the deadline to a Des Moines law firm, which he retained to represent him. Its attorneys stunned Lottery officials by showing up to claim the ticket with less than two hours to spare.
Lottery officials said they would not pay the jackpot until they were satisfied the ticket was legally claimed. They wanted the names of everyone who had possessed the ticket before Shaw.
Shaw claimed he was representing an attorney for a person who purchased the ticket and wished to remain anonymous and that he didn’t know the winner’s identity. He told Lottery officials the trust’s proceeds would go to a corporation in Belize, a country known as a tax haven.
Lottery officials rejected an offer by Shaw to give the jackpot to charity before he withdrew the claim to avoid “further controversy.” Officials have said the layers of secrecy could be a way for someone who stole the ticket or was prohibited from playing to claim a prize. Iowa law prohibits employees and contractors of the lottery, their relatives and anyone under 21 from playing, although officials have said the buyer appears to be of legal age.
Townsend said investigators have been in contact with law enforcement in at least one foreign country during the investigation, declining to elaborate. But Shaw claimed Tuesday they have not been in touch with him.
“I don’t think there’s anything more to tell,” Shaw said. “As far as I’m concerned, the thing is completed.”
He then hung up.
The payout for the prize would have been $7.5 million in cash, or $10.3 million over 25 years, after taxes. The mystery produced one positive side effect. Iowa Lottery officials had a “Mystery Millionaire” promotion with its share of the unclaimed jackpot, giving away a $1 million prize at the state fair in August. A recently-retired Des Moines police officer won the prize, saying he would use it to help his family during retirement.