Sand watched the video again and again, trying to pick up every little detail: the S.
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Sand, a baby-faced Iowan who turned down Harvard Law School for the University of Iowa College of Law, had a background that seemed perfect for the case: a high school job writing computer code and doing tech support, a specialty in white-collar crime. His recent cases included securities fraud and theft by public officials. The ticket in the video was purchased on Dec.
Six days later, the winning Hot Lotto numbers were selected: 3, 12, 16, 26, 33, But one month after the numbers were drawn, no one had presented the ticket. The Iowa Lottery held a news conference. Phone calls poured in; dozens of people claimed to be the winner.
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Some said they had lost the ticket. Others said it was stolen from them. One by one, they crossed off prospective claimants. Three months after the winning ticket was announced, the lottery issued another public reminder.
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Another followed at six months and again at nine months, each time warning that winners had one year to claim their money. A man named Philip Johnston, a lawyer from Quebec, called the Iowa Lottery and gave Neubauer the correct digit serial number on the winning Hot Lotto ticket.
Neubauer asked his age — in his 60s, he said — and what he was wearing when he purchased the ticket. His description, a sports coat and gray flannel dress pants, did not match the QuikTrip video. This was against the Iowa Lottery rules, which require the identities of winners to be public. Johnston floated the possibility of withdrawing his claim.
One year to the day after the winning numbers popped up on the random-number-generator computers — and less than two hours before the 4 p. The firm was claiming the ticket on behalf of a trust. In an interview in Quebec City, Johnston told investigators that he had been contacted about the ticket by a Houston attorney named Robert Sonfield. Johnston also pointed investigators toward a Sugar Land, Tex.
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A trip to Texas by Iowa investigators proved fruitless; during their several days there, both Sonfield and Rhodes managed to avoid them. By the time the file ended up on the desk of Rob Sand in , the case had acquired cultlike status in his office. Miller had mentored Sand and saw in him a kindred spirit, someone for whom practicing law was a calling. Sand grew up in Decorah, in northeast Iowa, the son of a small-town doctor who still made house calls.
He wanted to get into white-collar criminal prosecution because it focused not on crimes of desperation but on crimes of greed. On Oct. A few days later, in Maine, an employee of the Maine Lottery opened an email forwarded from his boss. The employee recognized the distinct voice in the video: It belonged to a man who had spent a week in the Maine Lottery offices a few years earlier conducting a security audit.
In Des Moines, a web developer at the Iowa Lottery who watched the video also recognized that voice: It belonged to a man she had worked alongside for years. A receptionist in another lottery office handed her earbuds to Noelle Krueger, a draw manager, and told her to listen. The organization runs lotteries for 33 different states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U. Virgin Islands. It was based in the Des Moines suburbs.
Among the games it ran was the Hot Lotto. He grew up in rural Texas, but while his siblings were outside, he was always in his room, fiddling with his computer. He was a paranoid sort who rarely paid with credit cards, who worried about people tracing his identity. But he always wanted people to like him. The house had five bedrooms and a huge basement, including a pool table, a shuffleboard table, a stadium-style home theater with couches and a space he considered turning into a basketball court.
In private moments, Tipton told them he was lonely and wanted a family more than anything, so he poured his savings into the house he hoped to fill with a wife and children. But the right partner never came. Instead, he hosted office Christmas parties, and he constantly asked friends to visit.
His family, still in Texas, checked on him frequently. His life revolved around his job.
He wrote software and worked on web pages. He handled network security and firewalls.
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And he reviewed security for lottery games in nearly three dozen states. He was putting in hour weeks and staying at the office until 11 p. This was Eddie Tipton, a man he had known for more than two decades, since they were in calculus class at the University of Houston. Stefan met his future wife while he and Tipton were on a charity bike ride in Texas; Tipton would later be in their wedding.
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Stefan helped Tipton get his job at the association. They bought some 50 acres of land together and built adjacent houses.
They even applied for a joint patent for computer-based lottery security. Stefan watched the convenience-store video for the first time after a former co-worker sent him the link that had been released by prosecutors. Why is he wearing a hoodie? Later, Stefan would tell investigators it was like finding out your mother was an ax murderer.
He felt betrayed. Tipton suggested Maher apply for a job at the lottery association as a network engineer. So when Maher saw the video and heard that familiar low-pitched voice, he did what a computer whiz does. The next day, he went to the QuikTrip where the ticket was purchased and measured the dimensions of the tiles on the floor, the height of the shelving units, the distance between the door and the cash register. He used the results to compare the hand size, foot size and height of the man in the video with the man he had become friends with. They asked him whom he knew in Houston.
In fact, the two were best friends and vacationed together. Tipton was arrested in January and charged with two felony counts of fraud. This story, though, has a 21st-century twist. The prosecution knew Tipton had bought the winning ticket. The video, specifically the distinct voice that colleagues had recognized, made that pretty clear. So did cellphone records, which showed Tipton was in town that day, not out of town for the holidays as he claimed, and that he had been on the phone for 71 minutes with Robert Rhodes, the man who briefly had possession of the ticket.
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Sand theorized that Tipton went into the draw room six weeks before the big jackpot and, despite the presence of two colleagues, managed to insert a thumb drive into one of the two computers that select the winning numbers. That thumb drive contained the rootkit; the rootkit allowed Tipton to direct which numbers would win the Hot Lotto on Dec. Imagination will take you anywhere. Sand told the jury to focus on the many ways Tipton could have fixed the lottery: He wrote the code. He had access to the random-number-generator machines before they were shipped to other states.
The prosecution had to prove only that Tipton tried to illegally buy lottery tickets as a Multi-State Lottery Association employee and tried to claim the prize through fraudulent means. The jury found him guilty on July 20, He would be sentenced to 10 years in prison, and he would appeal. The State Supreme Court later dismissed his conviction on one charge, tampering with lottery equipment, and the case was sent back to District Court.
Six weeks after the trial concluded, Sand had returned to his desk. It had been a busy summer. But in the back of his mind, he was still thinking about Eddie Tipton. His gut said other fraudulent lottery tickets were out there. Sand picked up. Sand was on the line, inquiring about a case that Rennison, a special agent for the bureau, investigated a decade before.
At the time, it turned out to be nothing.