|New Lead Deepens Mystery of $14.3M Unclaimed Lottery|
|By CAMERON BROCK||Oct 9, 2013, 2:11 AM|
Iowa has given a Canadian man immunity in exchange for information about a never-collected $14.3 million lottery jackpot that was initially claimed and then inexplicably abandoned, according to state prosecutors.
The unidentified man in Canada gave the information to the Iowa Attorney General's Office and Division of Criminal Investigation, pointing to possible leads in Houston that officials hope will solve one of the strangest lottery claims in the 26-year history of the Iowa lottery.
It's an unprecedented case of a winning lottery ticket that was claimed by a lawyer from New York who then withdrew that claim, officials say.
The information gleaned in Canada was "significant, fruitful," Deputy Iowa Attorney General Thomas H. Miller told The Associated Press.
"There are leads, plural, in Houston, Texas," said Miller, who was part of the Canada trip.
Investigators did not say what led them to the Canadian man.
The recent information has injected new life into the investigation, which has baffled authorities for nearly two years.
It all began in December 2010 with a winning ticket purchased at a Des Moines gas station for Iowa's Hot Lotto. The ticket went unpaid until a breakthrough hours before the deadline when New York attorney Crawford Shaw presented the valid, winning ticket.
Shaw said he was claiming the prize on behalf of an anonymous trust. He said the trust's proceeds would go to a corporation in Belize, a country that has a reputation as a tax haven.
Lottery officials refused to pay the jackpot until Shaw divulged names of everyone who had possessed the ticket, saying they wanted to know that it had been legally possessed. Shaw later withdrew his claim and the $14.3 was forfeited, leaving lottery officials baffled.
Shaw had no comment when reached Tuesday by ABC News.
"The possibilities of what could have occurred here really are endless," Iowa Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer told ABC News in January 2012. "It could have been as serious as someone being killed, or someone being blackmailed. It's all within the realm of possibility. The whole situation is just strange."
But Iowa lottery officials still had many questions about the ticket's rightful owner and wanted to untangle the mystery. They checked security cameras from the gas station on the day the winning ticket was purchased, failing to identify the buyer.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation eventually got involved and the lottery says it continues to look into many reports from individuals who allege the jackpot-winning ticket was stolen from them.
"It appears to me that on the face of it, that criminal acts have been committed with respects to people claiming to be the rightful owner who haven't. It's attempted fraud," Tom Conley, who runs a professional security service in Iowa, told ABC News.
Lottery officials say this case serves as an important reminder for people to sign their lottery tickets so there is no question about who owns the ticket.
Lottery officials say the money can no longer be distributed to the winner because the expiration date has passed.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.