Mystery trust beats the clock for lottery jackpot
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Lottery officials had more questions than answers Friday as they tried to unravel the stunning mystery behind a year-old winning ticket turned in less than two hours before Thursday's deadline for a jackpot worth up to $14.3 million.
Among the questions: Who actually bought the Hot Lotto ticket? Who are members of the trust that stepped forward to claim the prize less than two hours before it expired? Where was the ticket for 364 days, and why did the trustee risk sending it by FedEx to Des Moines one day before the deadline?
Here's what they know: Two attorneys with Des Moines-based Davis Brown Law Firm showed up at Iowa Lottery headquarters at 2:10 p.m. Thursday with the winning ticket before the 4 p.m. deadline. They represent Hexam Investments Trust, whose trustee is a lawyer and businessman named Crawford Shaw from the wealthy town of Bedford, N.Y. Shaw signed the ticket, which was validated as the winner, on behalf of the trust.
"It's amazing things were cut that close. What if something had gone wrong? What if there had been a snowstorm? It was down to the wire," said Mary Neubauer, a spokeswoman for the Lottery, which had installed a countdown clock, repeatedly issued public reminders about the ticket and had been making plans to give away Iowa's portion of the unclaimed jackpot. "We just continue to be thrilled that the ticket that came in does ultimately preserve the winner's ability to claim this prize."
But before they pay a dime, Lottery officials say they will conduct a thorough investigation to make sure the ticket was legally purchased, possessed and presented. They were presented with another wrinkle Friday when they received calls from multiple, unrelated people claiming the ticket was stolen from them.
Steve Bogle, the lottery's vice president of security, said it had never faced similar circumstances in its 26-year history: a huge jackpot claimed so close before the deadline, a winner who sent tight-lipped lawyers to claim the prize rather than showing up in person, a trust whose members weren't immediately clear.
"Everybody's curiosity is very high. We hope to be able to get all our questions answered and that everything works out so we can award this prize," he said. "We will do this as expeditiously as possible but we will be very thorough and comprehensive."
Neubauer said it's not known whether Shaw, a 76-year-old Yale graduate whose website calls him "a leading international lawyer, financier and management consultant with offices in New York, London and Paris," is the winner or whether he simply represents others. She said investigators were in "initial conversations" with him and making arrangements to meet him in person.
Security footage showing someone purchasing the winning ticket — numbers 3-12-16-26-33 and Hot Ball 11 — at a busy Des Moines convenience store near Interstate 80 and Interstate 35 on Dec. 29, 2010, will be reviewed as part of the investigation.
Attorney Beau Gamble of the Davis Brown Law Firm claimed he had "no idea" who actually bought the ticket and his firm was simply representing the trust. Asked whether Shaw was the winner, Gamble said: "That will be up to the Lotto to decide. Mr. Shaw is not claiming to be the winner. He's just the trustee of the trust."
Gamble said he wasn't authorized to comment on any other details or what he called "the mechanics" of how the ticket was found and sent to Iowa.
Lottery officials said they first heard from the law firm Tuesday and were told it was representing a trust in connection with the jackpot. Neubauer said the ticket was shipped on Wednesday through FedEx, presumably from New York, and arrived at the firm Thursday.
"We look forward to learning the details we've all been wondering about these many months, such as: How did the winner find out he had the jackpot-winning ticket? How long has he known he'd won? Why did he wait until the last day to turn in the ticket?" Lottery CEO Terry Rich said. "Every winner's situation is different, and it's always fun to hear the story."
But Shaw wasn't talking Friday — he did not return phone or e-mail messages. And his son, Crawford Shaw, Jr., wouldn't reveal what he knew.
"I'm not an attorney. I can't get into it," he said.
Neubauer said the jackpot had an annuity value of $16.5 million when the prize was drawn, but has dropped to about $14.3 million because of a weak bond market. She said the winner has 60 days to decide whether to take the annuity or a cash payout of $10.75 million, which has not changed.
She said other winners had formed trusts to split up prize money — but they showed up to claim it themselves. As for Hexam, she wondered: "Is it somebody's initials?"
Despite the murky circumstances surrounding the ticket, she said its appearance should be a relief to hundreds of Lottery players who called suggesting they might be the winner.
"They didn't wash the ticket. They didn't lose the ticket. The dog didn't eat their ticket," she said. "We'd heard all of those stories and more."