Jury sends resounding message to overzealous prosecutors
A Pennsylvania man didn't strike it rich with a phony Powerball ticket, but he won a victory yesterday when a Dauphin County jury decided he didn't do anything wrong.
After deliberating a little more than an hour, the jury acquitted Brian Scott Miller, 34, of unsworn falsification to authorities.
The charge was lodged after agents of the state attorney general's office said Miller signed a form saying he bought the ticket, then admitted he found it on a table in a break room at Roadway Express in Middlesex Twp.
The jury apparently agreed with attorney Robert Daniels, who said Miller was the victim of a cruel joke and an overzealous investigation and prosecution by the attorney general's office.
Miller was arrested by 25 armed police officers when he left lottery headquarters in Lower Swatara Twp. Nov. 14 with what he thought was a check for an $853,492 prize. He was charged originally with forging a lottery ticket and theft by deception, but those charges were dropped.
Shortly after Miller's arrest, James A. Koons, 38, of the 1100 block of East Main Street, Hegins, told police he made the ticket on his computer as a joke, put it on a table in the break room at Roadway Express, where both men worked, and put a newspaper on top of it, police said.
Koons could be seen in a security video placing the ticket under a newspaper and putting it on the table where Miller sat. Miller, who ran a lottery pool with other employees, found the ticket and believed he had dropped it while sorting tickets in the break room.
Koons is awaiting trial in Cumberland County on charges of forgery, unlawful use of a computer and tampering with public records.
Miller was relieved after the verdict.
"It's been a long time coming," he said.
"Me and my family are so relieved that the jurors saw my innocence."
He still works at Roadway, but said he quit the lottery pool.
"They would give the lottery back to me in a heartbeat, but I told them since all this, I don't want nothing to do with the lottery," Miller said.
Daniels said the attorney general's office pushed the prosecution to save face over the amount of manpower and money they put toward what turned out to be a practical joke.
"They have a lot invested in this case," Daniels told the jury during closing arguments. "They have to justify it."
He said the investigation included seizing Miller's truck, serving search warrants on his home, taking his computer, tapping phone calls and questioning all 18 members of Miller's lottery pool.
Anthony J. Fiore, the agent who headed the investigation, even created a fake persona as a lottery official who congratulated Miller and instructed him on how to collect his winnings on videotape before arresting him.
"I've had homicide cases with less effort in them than this one," Daniels said. "My whole point was all they had to do is give him a call and tell him there was a problem and he would have cooperated with them. Instead they decided to go through this whole ordeal."
Immediately after his arrest, Miller admitted he found the ticket.
Daniels scoffed at Fiore's contention that Miller wouldn't have been arrested if he hadn't said he bought the ticket, calling it "complete nonsense."
Daniels said Fiore had a warrant for Miller's arrest and 25 armed officers outside when Miller went to lottery headquarters to collect his "prize."
The attorney general's office originally said the heavy police presence was due to a supposed link to a motorcycle gang that never panned out.
Senior Deputy Attorney General George R. Zaiser had no comment after the verdict. However, in closing arguments, he said they had to take the case seriously.
When someone shows up with a fake lottery ticket, "you don't appear to be a nice guy from Carlisle, you appear to be a criminal," he said.
Zaiser had offered Miller a chance to enter Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, a probationary program for first-time offenders, but Miller opted for a trial.
Zaiser said Daniels' criticism of what took place after the arrest was misplaced.
"If he had told the truth that he found the ticket, he wouldn't have been arrested," Zaiser said.