Bob Sehested of Camarillo, Calif. had just watched himself buying what turned out to be a 500,000 winning lottery ticket at this store. Trouble is, Bob didn't have the prize money, and didn't understand what had happened. The clerk behind the counter had told him his winning ticket was only worth four dollars.
Bob Sehested: I called the lottery and it all went from there.
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Lottery investigators came to Sehested's house and interviewed him. They quickly determined that Sehested was the legitimate winner of the $500,000 prize--- and he eventually got his money.
But why hadn't Bob known he'd had the winning ticket in the first place? After some more investigation, it became clear the clerk had stolen the winning ticket.
Here's how he did it:
Bob Sehested: When I put my ticket on the counter for him to check it, he was waiting on another customer. And he kept glancing down at my ticket. And then, when he was done with that customer, for some reason, he went into the backroom. Then, he came back. And then, he checked my ticket and told me it was four dollars.
Apparently the clerk knew he was looking at the winning numbers.
Bob Sehested: So I guess since he knew that the store had the $500,000 winner, he knew what numbers he was looking for.
And it seems he was prepared. He had another ticket handy in the back room ready to substitute just in case the big winner showed up. That substitute ticket was for a mere four dollar winner. The ultimate switcharoo.
Lottery investigators became suspicious when the clerk tried to cash the $500,000 ticket. Any large claim like that gets investigated, and the clerk's story about how he got the ticket didn't add up. The clerk pled guilty to Grand Theft, Making a False Claim to a Government Agency and Enhancements for a theft over $500,000.00. The prize offered by the stolen Mega Millions Lottery ticket was $530,858.00. The clerk was sentences to five years and four months in state prison.
Here's a short video clip of the hour-long episode:
Of course, this type of investigation can have its legality questioned, which is exactly what the New York State Lottery did. Its director, Gordon Medinica, declined an interview with Dateline NBC, but instead sent a letter which stated that the show is "...entrapping retailers into scamming customers our of lottery prizes." The New York Lottery even sent out a digital warning via its lottery ticket machines (the image can be viewed here).
Why I want to bring this story to your attention is to make a comment on how the type of crime committed can (and does) influence what we think about the law enforcement tactics used to catch the criminals. If you read the entire transcript of the show, you will note that the $1,000 "winning" tickets in California are really fake - the California Lottery manufactured them to appear real in order to aid law enforcement to conduct a sting operation. The first thing I thought of, even before the statement from the New York State Lottery Director, was entrapment.
What is important to me is what circumstances would we as a viewing public deem entrapment as a valid defense. When Perverted Justice sets up child predator stings by having chatters appear under age with intent to lure individuals to chat explicitly with them, is that not as potentially suspect an operation as the one conducted for the lotteries? Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of individuals who take their online encounters with the decoys way too far, with paper and video evidence clearly showing them guilty, but does that mean that all of them are automatically criminals? The answer to this question, at least in the eyes of the producers of the pilot episode, is no. In case you have forgotten, on the first episode of the long-lasting series, the individuals were not arrested. But had they been lured in on a subsequent episode, they would have been. Are the acts they committed any less criminal if conducted on the first episode instead of the second, at least deemed by the standards of all subsequent episodes?
Despite utilizing similar questionable sting tactics as used for the lottery fraud investigation, the word "entrapment" hasn't been mentioned on any of the "To Catch a Predator" episodes that I have seen, which is quite a lot. In my opinion, the type of crime largely determines whether or not we are willing to deem an entrapment defense acceptable. Stealing a $1,000 lottery scratch-off ticket is a much more defensible crime than attempting to have sex with a minor, and thus our emotions get in the way of our supposed objective and impartial adjudication of law.
I think this is why the study and practice of law remains so disillusioning for me.