In the opening round of what may be a lengthy legal battle, an 83-year-old local man who found a winning Massachusetts lottery ticket in a trash bin defended his right to the $1 million prize yesterday, fending off a rival claim.
The hearing, at the headquarters of the Massachusetts Lottery Commission in Braintree, was largely an exercise in legal technicalities.
The commission said earlier this month is had already rejected a counterclaim on a ticket found by Edward St. John in a trash bin at the White Hen Pantry. At the same time, however, the commission said it wouldn't pay St. John until the still-anonymous man challenging St. John's ownership of the ticket exhausted all his avenues of appeal within the agency.
"This is just another part of the process," said Beth Bresnahan, a spokeswoman for the lottery. "It's a part of due process."
Grace Lee, general counsel to state Treasurer Timothy Cahill, served as the officer in charge of the hearing and is expected to make a decision in about six weeks. Lee asked both sides to issue written summaries of their arguments in the meantime, said Bresnahan.
Sometimes mistaken for a homeless person, St. John lives near the White Hen Pantry and is regularly seen sifting through the trash at the Main Street convenience store. Some time ago, St. John found a discarded $1,000 winner among the throwaways, but his trash-picking pastime really turned golden last month when he lifted a $1 million winner from the waste bin inside the store. The ticket was one of the lottery's $10 Million Hold 'Em Poker "instant" games.
Despite requests for interviews from "The Tonight Show," "Good Morning America" and other national spotlights, St. John has steadfastly avoided publicity, saying he doesn't want to be bothered.
Shortly after St. John's trash-to-treasure story became public, Dan Doyle, a Blackstone lawyer, confirmed he represents another local man who claims to be the rightful owner of the
ticket. Doyle told The Call previously that his client, whom he declined to identify, "misplaced" the ticket in the trash can before St. John discovered it.
Yesterday, the lottery continued to withhold the identity of the rival claimant, saying it is doing so to honor his request for anonymity. Moreover, the person did not attend the hearing, but was represented by Doyle, in a solo appearance before the hearing officer.
According to Bresnahan, Doyle did not offer testimony from any witnesses to corroborate his story, but introduced video footage purporting to show his client purchasing the winning ticket.
"He presented footage from the store's security camera, but there was nothing conclusive," she said.
Doyle, who could not be reached for comment, said previously that his client purchased about $600 worth of lottery tickets at the White Hen Pantry on the day of St. John's discovery. After scratching a telltale "key code" on the tickets, his client began sorting through the winners without actually revealing the payoff amounts.
Doyle had said his client mistakenly placed the winning ticket in a pile with the losers, which he discarded.
Workers in the store have since come forward to dispute Doyle's remarks about what happened next. Doyle claimed St. John was in the store watching his client sort the tickets and, after fishing it from the trash bin, was advised against cashing it by a clerk because he wasn't the purchaser, but the workers say that is inaccurate.
St. John did not come into the store until several hours after the original buyer discarded the ticket, and he was never advised against cashing the ticket, according to workers.
St. John did not have a lawyer to speak for him during yesterday's hearing, but he was with "family members and friends," Bresnahan said.
St. John is entitled to the winnings, the lottery has said, because lottery tickets are "bearer instruments," payable to whoever possesses and signs the back of them. St. John meets all the requirements, according to the lottery.
If, as expected, the lottery formally rejects the rival claim, the decision can be appealed to Worcester Superior Court. Although it is apparently the commission's intention to pay St. John after a decision is rendered in yesterday's administrative hearing, it is possible the court could grant an order barring it from doing so, pending further hearings, lottery officials say.