DECATUR, Ill. — A woman who lived with a Decatur drug dealer ended up losing big time when she took a judicial gamble on winning back the proceeds of a $50,000 lottery ticket.
The state of Illinois had initially seized the money as the ill-gotten gains of a ticket bought with drug money. But then a Macon County judge later ruled against the state and awarded the lottery cash to the woman, Tykisha Lofton.
Now, in a decision filed Sept. 27, the three-judge Fourth District Appeals Court ruled unanimously to reverse that decision and said the lottery winnings deserve to be kept by the state, where they will be shared among local and state law enforcement agencies.
The appeals court said the state was right in its initial suspicion the ticket had mostly likely been bought with the proceeds of drug sales, and that meant Lofton, who said she had lived with the drug dealer for many years, was out of luck.
Police had first discovered there was a winning ticket in November 2014, after officers from the Decatur Police Street Crimes Unit and the Macon County Sheriff's Office Special Response Team raided an address in the 1600 block of East Hickory Street.
They arrested Terrance Norwood, then age 30, after seizing a loaded SKS-type assault rifle, along with extra ammunition and a quantity of cocaine and cannabis together with a digital scale. Police say they found the rifle in the bedroom and 7.5 grams of cocaine in the kitchen and cannabis stashed throughout the house. Norwood was sentenced in October 2015 to 16 years in state prison for drug dealing, drug possession and armed violence offenses.
Lofton had been present during the raid that led to those charges but had told police she was "unaware" Norwood sold drugs. She also said she hadn't noticed the assault rifle in the bedroom.
Under questioning, detectives claimed Norwood told them about the winning $3 scratch-off lottery ticket, which he had already turned in to claim the prize, worth $35,315 when paid as a lump sum. He said the ticket was his way out of having to sell drugs.
"Norwood stated he was selling drugs to pay the bills until he got that 'little bit of money,'" according to court documents describing Norwood being interrogated at the time by Macon County sheriff's deputy Brian Hickey.
Police further alleged that Lofton at the time of the raid didn't dispute her boyfriend had been the one who had purchased the ticket, although she had scratched it off. But in her later court filing seeking the lottery proceeds before the Macon County judge, the formerly unemployed Lofton said she had bought the ticket with some cash she had earned.
"... She purchased the first ticket, which yielded a free ticket, with money she received from babysitting," court documents stated. "According to Lofton, the free ticket was the winning ticket." She backed up her version of events by producing a claim form dated Oct. 30, 2014, bearing her name and details.
But the Macon County judge had not bought her story and ruled that Norwood had purchased the ticket "more likely than not with drug money." However, the judge said extending state forfeiture laws to grab the proceeds from a lottery ticket was going too far.
The judge used examples such as establishing a dry cleaning business with drug money or a drug dealer paying to put himself through medical school and then going to work as a doctor. "Is that money (a doctor's salary or the profits of a legitimate business) then forfeitable?" wrote the judge. "At some point the connection has to stop." He then ruled in Lofton's favor.
The state of Illinois filed a motion to stay that judgment in July 2015, pending appeal. And now the appeals court, after wading back through various examples of case law, ruled the lottery windfall couldn't escape being linked to money obtained illegally.
"Because of the direct link between the lottery winnings and the funds used to purchase the original ticket, the winnings can reasonably be considered "proceeds traceable" to Norwood's illegal drug sales," the appeals court judges wrote. "The trial court's conclusion to the contrary was in error."
Reacting to the appeals court decision, sheriff's Lt. Jamie Belcher said seized cash like this is normally split among the sheriff's office, Decatur police and the Illinois State Police.
"The money we (the sheriff's office) seize from drug raids goes into a separate drug enforcement account," Belcher said. "That is used to purchase equipment and anything the drug enforcement guys need."
Belcher said it seemed only fair that a drug dealer or his loved ones shouldn't profit, even indirectly, from the proceeds of drug sales. But fighting it out in court over a winning lottery ticket was certainly unusual.
"I've never heard of a case like it before," he added.