The leader of a conspiracy that netted millions of dollars by fixing lottery drawings in multiple US states has admitted his guilt for the first time.
On Thursday, Eddie Tipton, a former computer information security director for the Multi-State Lottery Association (MUSL), appeared in an Iowa court to plead guilty to a single count of ongoing criminal conduct as part of a plea deal struck with prosecutors.
Tipton told Judge Brad McCall that he “wrote software that included code that allowed me to understand or technically predict winning numbers, and I gave those numbers to other individuals who then won the lottery and shared the winnings with me.”
Starting in 2005, Tipton installed a ‘rootkit’ device on the MUSL’s random number generator that led the machine to deliver pre-programmed numbers on select days of the year. Tipton enlisted the help of his brother Tommy and Tommy’s friend Robert Rhodes to cash millions of dollars’ worth of winning tickets from the rigged draws in five different states.
The scam came undone in 2011, when the gang made a ham-fisted attempt to claim their biggest prize – a $16.5m Hot Lotto jackpot in Iowa – through a lawyer who originally demanded anonymity for a publicity-shy winner then announced the winner was walking away from the prize when Lottery officials refused the anonymity request.
Their interest piqued, the Iowa Lottery circulated a video of the winner buying the Hot Lotto ticket at a local gas station. Eddie Tipton’s co-workers recognized him and the jig was officially up. Only later did MUSL officials discover the gang had also redeemed jackpots in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Tipton was convicted on two counts of fraud in 2015 but remained free pending appeal. Those convictions were overturned earlier this month after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the case took too long to come to trial but Tipton had already reached his deal with prosecutors that covered his charges in all the states in which the gang claimed jackpots.
Tipton faces up to 25 years when he’s sentenced at an undetermined later date and prosecutors said they would seek the maximum allowable penalty.
Tommy Tipton pled guilty in the same courtroom Thursday to charges of conspiracy to commit theft by deception. His deal calls for a deferred sentence on a felony charge and a 75-day jail stint on a misdemeanor charge. The Tipton brothers have also been ordered to pay a combined $3m in restitution.
Rhodes is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to his own charges of being party to a computer crime. Rhodes’ cooperation with prosecutors was said to have been a factor in Eddie Tipton’s decision to strike a deal with prosecutors.