A top New Jersey Lottery official testified yesterday that his own investigation into a disputed $25 million prize found that the winning ticket belongs to an Englewood couple now at the center of a legal battle over the money.
At the same time, Raymond Ryan, the lottery's deputy director for security and licensing, said he could not substantiate a claim by 20 Englewood Hospital workers that the ticket was really theirs.
The workers have filed a lawsuit in which they claim their office lottery pool manager, 27-year-old Jamal Townes, of Englewood, used their money to buy the winning ticket for the New Jersey Lottery Big Game Mega Millions drawing on March 15 and then secretly gave it to his former neighbor, Cornell Davis.
Davis and his wife, Teri, of Englewood, say they have nothing to do with Townes. They were neighbors in Englewood 20 years ago, but have had no recent contact. The Davises say they purchased the ticket and had it validated the day after the drawing.
Superior Court Judge Marguerite Simone has put all but $100,000 of the money in a court account while she hears the case, which began Monday in Hackensack. If she decides in the Davises' favor, the couple will get the full $25 million.
"I have to be strong," said Teri Davis, who quit her teaching job shortly after she and her husband won the lottery. "I'm trying not to think about the case too much because I can't afford to feel frustrated. I've become more dependent on God since this all happened."
Teri Davis is expecting a baby in October.
Simone has yet to decide whether she will admit the findings of Ryan's investigation. If she does, that could go a long way in determining the outcome of the non-jury trial.
Ryan, testifying on the second day of the trial, said that as part of his investigation, he interviewed the Davises, the hospital workers and Townes.
The Davises, he said, initially told lottery officials that Teri Davis purchased the winning ticket the night of March 13 at the Circle Food Mart on Tenafly Road in Englewood. But the ticket was actually sold at 9:22 a.m. the next day.
When confronted with the discrepancy, the couple said they were confused and changed their story, Ryan said.
In the end, he said, the time discrepancy did not figure into his findings. Rather, his decision to validate the ticket was based in large part on Cornell Davis' ability to provide information that only the person who purchased the ticket would know: that the winning numbers were on a $5 Quick Pick ticket and that a $2 ticket for the same game was purchased two seconds later.
Ryan testified that Cornell Davis said he bought $7 worth of lottery tickets at the store early on March 14 -- a $5 ticket followed immediately by a $2 ticket. He was able to show both tickets to lottery officials, who verified ticket sales by location, time and date. The tickets matched up, Ryan said.
"Cornell provided a fact only the owner of the ticket could know," Ryan testified.
But under questioning from Sheldon Liebowitz, the attorney for the hospital workers, Ryan admitted that he could not prove who actually purchased the ticket.
A videotape provided by the convenience store where the ticket was bought did not have clear times and dates and did not show Townes in the store, Ryan said.
"Do you know if there's any bottom line proof or anything in the report that shows who actually purchased that ticket?" Liebowitz asked.
"No, I don't," Ryan said.
Much of yesterday's testimony from Ryan and two of the plaintiffs focused on Townes' whereabouts on the morning the winning ticket was sold.
Ryan said he could not substantiate the hospital workers' claims that Townes had bought the ticket because hospital records showed he was at work that day and the hospital garage records show his car was parked there between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
Townes' attorney, Warren Sutnick, said it would have been "impossible" for his client to leave the hospital to buy the ticket that morning because he was logged in to work on a 10-minute diagnostic procedure starting at 9:27 a.m.
But the hospital workers, all of whom work in the cardiac catheterization unit, testified that even though Townes, an X-ray technician, was logged in for the diagnostic test, he could have left the building for a short time unnoticed. The Circle Food Mart is about a 10-minute drive from the hospital.
One of the workers testified Monday that the group grew suspicious of Townes after the drawing when he told them his "cousin," Cornell Davis -- they are not related -- won the lottery and had bought Townes a BMW and then moved to Hawaii. Townes' lawyer said neither of those things are true.
Yesterday, Townes sat quietly in court, talking to neither his co-workers nor the Davises.
"I feel very betrayed," Townes said during a break. "These people I work with, I consider my family. We work in a high-adrenaline, high-stress office. I feel stigmatized. Thankfully, I have a job I love and I can focus on what I do."