FBI missed chance to prevent rigged lottery across 5 states

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Investigators were suspicious in 2006 when they heard that a rural Texas judge was trying to exchange $450,000 in consecutively marked bills.

But Tommy Tipton, a Fayette County magistrate, told the FBI that his actions were innocent, if odd: He won the Colorado lottery but couldn’t tell his wife because gambling was against their Christian faith. The FBI accepted the story and dropped its inquiry of Tipton, who soon bought a new truck and more property around the town of Flatonia, 110 miles west of Houston.

A decade later, the inquiry stands out as a missed chance to stop a jackpot rigging scandal that would corrupt the $70 billion lottery industry for years while enriching a tiny group of insiders. The FBI didn’t uncover one fact that its informant knew but didn’t see as significant: that Tipton’s brother, Eddie Tipton, was a lottery industry employee. In fact, he’d built the machine that picked the winning combination for the Colorado Lotto game.

“I didn’t add two and two together,” said the informant, Tom Bargas, owner of Mr. B Fireworks in Schulenburg, Texas. “I don’t think I mentioned it to the FBI. Had I, they probably would have been smart enough to know then. It was a missed opportunity. It should have been stopped immediately.”

Bargas recalled a conversation months earlier in his warehouse in which someone joked to Eddie Tipton that he could use his job at the Multi-State Lottery Association in Urbandale, Iowa, to “rig up the lottery.”

“He just laughed about it,” Bargas said. “We didn’t realize that he was actually thinking about doing it or had done it already.”

 

Eddie Tipton, 54, admitted in a plea agreement with multiple states this month that he long profited off his position at the association, which helps run dozens of lotteries. Investigators say he designed and installed code that allowed him to predict winning numbers drawn every May 27, Nov. 23, and Dec. 29 of nonleap years. He conspired with his younger brother, friend Robert Rhodes and others to buy and claim winning tickets in five states between 2005 and 2011.

The brothers have agreed to tell investigators the full extent of their involvement in jackpot-fixing under the deal, which requires they pay back $3 million. Prosecutors will seek 25 years in an Iowa prison for Eddie and 75 days in a Texas jail for Tommy, who worked as a sheriff’s deputy before being elected Justice of the Peace in 2002, presiding over traffic enforcement, misdemeanors and some civil disputes.

Tommy Tipton’s lawyers argued that the FBI’s old inquiry should bar his current prosecution because the statute of limitations had expired. But Iowa prosecutor Rob Sand responded that the FBI had no reason to think the lottery might have been rigged.

“Doing so would have seemed harebrained at the time,” Sand wrote, adding that agents “had no knowledge of Eddie Tipton’s existence.”

The FBI’s Houston office, which oversaw the inquiry, declined to comment.

The scandal has roiled state lotteries, which have vowed to tighten their security and face lawsuits from players claiming they were cheated.

The $4.5 million Colorado jackpot in late 2005 is the first prize suspected of being fixed.

Three came forward with winning tickets: Alexander Hicks, a friend of Tommy Tipton’s whom he recruited to claim the prize in exchange for 10 percent; Texas lawyer Thad Whisenant, representing a newly formed Nevada limited liability corporation called Cuestion de Suerte; and a Colorado resident.

Hicks and Whisenant both had “manual play” tickets in which buyers select their own numbers — a statistical longshot. The third winner had the far more common “easy pick” ticket generated by a machine. The lottery paid each. Hicks took the $568,900 cash option, returning 90 percent to Tommy Tipton.

Bargas recalled Tommy showing him large piles of freshly printed bills on Dec. 31, 2005, and asking him to swap the money for cash his business brought in from New Year’s fireworks sales. Bargas declined and reported the suspicious encounter to police, noting that Tommy Tipton wouldn’t tell him where the money came from but insisted it was “legit.”

Suspecting money laundering, the FBI asked Bargas to go undercover. He recorded a conversation in which Tommy Tipton claimed he won the lottery while in Colorado hunting for Bigfoot, a longtime hobby. Tipton told Bargas he wanted to hide the money from his wife because they were headed toward divorce. Bargas believed him. The FBI closed the matter after interviewing Tommy Tipton, Hicks and the lottery.

Investigators now suspect Whisenant is linked to the scheme. They note he and Tommy Tipton both have financial ties to Fayette County attorney Luis Vallejo, who tried to deposit $250,000 cash into anonymous corporate bank accounts in 2006. Whisenant and Vallejo haven’t been charged. They didn’t reply to phone messages seeking comment.

After Eddie Tipton was convicted of fraud in 2015 for buying the winning ticket for a $16.5 million Iowa jackpot, a tipster called investigators suggesting they revisit the jackpot his brother won a decade prior. Other rigged jackpots emerged. Tommy Tipton, who testified that his brother was innocent at the 2015 trial, resigned his judgeship and was charged.

Bargas called Tommy Tipton’s plea deal — in which he’ll be allowed to maintain employment as a firearms instructor — too lenient.

“He’s a crook, period,” he said. “Guys like him need to be punished.”

ad-high_impact_4
News
LVMPD Arrests Suspect in Sunset Park Shooting
Captain Robert Plummer held a press conference at LVMPD headquarters Thursday to provide updates on the arrest of Anthony J. Wrobel, accused of killing a Venetian executive and wounding one other in a shooting on Sunday.
Two Black Men Arrested at Starbucks Share Their Story
Two Black Men Arrested at Starbucks Share Their Story Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson sat down with ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ on Thursday and said the Starbucks manager called the police two minutes after they arrived. Donte Robinson, to 'Good Morning America' Donte Robinson, to 'Good Morning America' The men were meeting with a friend for a business meeting at the store’s location at around 3:45 pm on April 12 and declined to make any purchases. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson issued a public apology and vowed to fix the issue by closing 8,000 stores nationwide next month for training on unconscious bias. Both Nelson and Robinson were released without charges after spending hours in jail, and the manager is no longer with the company.
Hero Southwest Pilot Was One of the Navy’s First Female Fighter Pilots
Hero Southwest Pilot Was One of the Navy’s First Female Fighter Pilots Tammie Jo Shults is being called a hero after safely landing the crippled Southwest Flight 1380 in Philadelphia. According to a spokesperson, Shults began her Navy career in 1985 and was one of the first female pilots to “transition to tactical aircraft.” She served for another eight years before moving to the Naval Reserve, retiring completely in 2001 with the rank of Lt. Commander. The Southwest flight, which was headed for Dallas from New York, was forced to make an emergency landing after one of its engines blew. One passenger was killed in the explosion when shrapnel flew through a window. Seven others suffered minor injuries aboard the flight, which carried 149 people. Passenger Peggy Phillips, to NBC News Passenger Peggy Phillips, to NBC News
Bump stock manufacturers under fire
The Justice Department said last month that it had started the process to amend federal firearms regulations to clarify that federal law defines bump stocks as machine guns.
Artist, Community Paint Winchester Skate Park
Andrew Schoultz, a Los Angeles-based artist with an upcoming exhibit at UNLV's Barrick Museum, painted the skate park at Winchester Cultural Center on Tuesday.
Prince death investigation coming to an end
Prosecutors in Minnesota plan an announcement Thursday on the two-year investigation into Prince's death from a drug overdose Prince was 57 when he was found alone and unresponsive in an elevator at his Paisley Park estate on April 21, 2016. An autopsy found he died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Search warrants unsealed about a year after Prince died showed that authorities searched his home, cellphone records of associates and his email accounts to try to determine how he got the drug. The county attorney has scheduled a morning announcement at which time charges could be filed.
David Copperfield executive producer testifies during the magician's civil trial
A British tourist is suing illusionist David Copperfield saying he was injured during a trick. Chris Kenner, executive producer for illusionist David Copperfield, was on the witness stand all day Tuesday, April 17. Kenner testified that a business manager for the show talked to the man after he fell. Kenner testified that the tourist, Gavin Cox, said he was OK moments after the fall. Cox later told the crew: “Maybe I will have this looked at.” Copperfield is the next witness in line for Cox’s attorneys. K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
CCSD Teacher Is a Living Organ Donor
June Monroe speaks about her kidney donation to her brother and advocacy work with the National Kidney Foundation.
Shadow Ridge High School teachers protest
Shadow Ridge High School teachers protest. Teachers are upset over many things, including the fact that the district is fighting an arbitration ruling for pay raises. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Clark County commissioners debate getting rid of Henderson, North Las Vegas constables
Clark County commissioners are debating whether to get rid of the Henderson and North Las Vegas constables after RJ's story pointing out questionable spending by the Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
1 Dead, 7 Injured After Southwest Airlines Flight Makes Emergency Landing
1 Dead, 7 Injured After Southwest Airlines Flight Makes Emergency Landing Dallas-bound Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 out of New York, which had 143 passengers and a crew of five onboard, landed in Philadelphia on Tuesday. According to NBC10, a female passenger was partially sucked out of a broken window, which was a result of the plane's engine ripping apart. It's not known if the female passenger was the one who died. Emergency personnel met the battered plane upon its landing. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the blown engine resulted in a smashed window and a damaged fuselage. Southwest Airlines The FAA said that the NTSB will lead the investigation into what happened.
Single vehicle crash kills man
A man died Tuesday morning in a single-vehicle crash in northeast Las Vegas. The crash occurred Tuesday morning on the 1900 block of Pasadena Boulevard, near Lake Mead Boulevard and Mt. Hood Street. Police had few details, but Metro's fatal detail was on the scene investigating.
Sunset Park Homicide (update 2)
LVMPD gives update about suspect in homicide at Sunset Park (Blake Apgar)
Sunset Park Homicide (update)
Update from LVMPD on Sunset Park homicide. Releasing suspect's name (Blake Apgar)
Sunset Park Homicide
Police give details about Sunset Park homicide on Sunday, April 15, 2018. (Blake Apgar)
Parents of autistic child talk about their experience waiting for care
Parents of autistic child talk about their experience waiting for care. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Donald Trump Calls Out James Comey After Book Details Emerge
Donald Trump Calls Out James Comey After Book Details Emerge The President took to Twitter to criticize the former FBI director as information emerges from Comey’s new book, ‘A Higher Loyalty’. According to 'The New York Times', Comey describes Trump in the book as “unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values.” James Comey, A Higher Loyalty, via The New York Times A Higher Loyalty hits stores on April 17.
Big Bounce America visits North Las Vegas
Billing itself as "the biggest bounce house in the world," Big Bounce America visits Craig Ranch Regional Park in Las Vegas.
Endangered Devils Hole Pupfish numbers enough for concern, but not panic
Researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Death Valley National Park came together at Devils Hole, about 90 miles west of Las Vegas, for a biannual count of the Devils Hole Pupfish, an endangered species. Their count this time – 87. (Video by Patrick Connolly)
Hickey Elementary Students Put Harry Potter on Trial
Liliam Lujan Hickey Elementary School students learned how the judicial system works by putting Harry Potter on trial for the illegal use of magic.
David Copperfield in court after man injured during magic trick
The attorney for a British man who is suing illusionist David Copperfield said his client suffered serious injuries after being called on stage during Copperfield's show at MGM Grand.
The Clark County Museum Turns 50 This Month
The Clark County Museum has an extensive collection, dating back to prehistoric times in Southern Nevada up through the present day. It was first established in April 1968 and has had several locations before it's current home on South Boulder Highway.
Route 91 Artifacts Will Be On Display This October
Clark County Museum Administrator Mark Hall-Patton explains what artifacts will be on display in October as part of the museums Route 91 shooting memorial exhibit called "How We Mourned."
Bullet grazes woman's head
Las Vegas police investigating calls of a shooting early Friday morning found a woman who suffered a wound to her head. A bullet grazed the woman's head while she was inside her Village Square apartment on Nellis Oasis Lane. She did not have to be hospitalized, and police said she might have been an "unintended" victim. The shooting occurred around 4 a.m. Police are looking for the shooter.
Aces Host Draft Party
The Las Vegas Aces host a WNBA draft party at the Mandalay Bay for season-ticket holders, and have the number one overall pick.
Las Vegas man stands with president at White House
President Donald Trump delivered remarks in the Rose Garden Thursday about how the GOP tax cut plan helped working families across the country. To his left stood Richard Kerzetski, president of Universal Plumbing & Heating Co. in Las Vegas. Debra J. Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Transgender Man Running for Assembly District 42
U.S. Army veteran La Don Henry is hoping to become Nevada’s first openly transgender state legislator.
Erik Weihenmayer is the First Blind Person to Summit Mount Everest
Erik Weihenmayer talks about how he first got into mountaineering in 1995 with the ascent of Denali, the tallest peak in North America, and what he loves about climbing.
New Theater Coming to Neonopolis
Ken Henderson explains his concept for Notoriety, a 57,000-square-foot theater complex on the third floor of Neonopolis intended to host comedy, music and theater acts.
Life
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Companies bet their futures on cryptocurrency
Two Las Vegas entrepreneurs talk about finding their niche in blockchain enabled technologies and digital currency.
Solar panels reduce energy bill for CCSD
Wilbur and Theresa Faiss Middle School is one of 42 CCSD schools with solar panel installations, saving approximately $514,000 per year in energy costs.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
ad-infeed_1
ads_infeed_2
Local Spotlight
Events
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like