Officer says club management trying 'to mislead' investigators
The Kanawha County Sheriff's Department says it believes Powerball multimillionaire Jack Whittaker was drugged inside a Cross Lanes strip club when someone broke into his car and snatched a briefcase containing more than $545,000.
"It was strong enough he didn't get to his Lincoln Navigator for several hours, and when he called 911 he still sounded groggy," Chief Deputy Phil Morris said today.
Morris said the management of the Pink Pony strip club has been trying "to mislead" police and convince investigators Whittaker was drunk Tuesday when someone took his black briefcase containing cash and checks and tossed it behind the strip club's Dumpster. A private investigator hired by Whittaker found the briefcase, still filled with the money and checks, next to the Dumpster a few hours later.
Morris said police believe Whittaker when he says he hadn't consumed enough alcohol to be drunk.
Beyond Whittaker's claims, police have not revealed any evidence that the Scott Depot millionaire was drugged. They currently are waiting for toxicology tests to be performed on a sample of Whittaker's urine.
The sheriff's department is saying it expects an arrest to happen within the next day or so.
An unidentified worker at the Pink Pony today refused comment, but he maintained that Whittaker was drunk.
Meanwhile, Whittaker is in "as good of spirits as anyone could be," a spokesman said. The winner of last Christmas' $314 million Powerball jackpot, Whittaker took a lump-sum payment of $113 million. He has used his fortune to buy a racetrack near Beckley and set up a charitable foundation that has given at least $3 million to churches, among other things.
After his car was broken into Tuesday, police revealed that Whittaker also has used his money to gamble and go to strip clubs.
"My personal life is my own, and I make no excuses for my actions," he said in his only formal statement since his briefcase was snatched.
As of today, he still hasn't showed up to collect the $545,000 he almost lost Tuesday. Morris said he had two armed escorts deposit it in United Bank while they wait for Whittaker to claim the money.
Also Wednesday, investigators from the sheriff's department descended on the Pink Pony. Morris said they interviewed a number of club employees and administered lie detector tests inside the club.
Morris wouldn't say what investigators asked employees. But investigators are asking questions about what happened inside the club between about 2:30 and 5 a.m. Tuesday, when Whittaker entered and exited the club.
"I believe he was drugged after the club closed at 3 a.m.," Morris said. "At some point later people were trying to give him food and coffee and get him back into a state where he could leave. And that took two hours."
It's unclear if Whittaker told anyone inside the club that he had a briefcase filled with money sitting in his sport-utility vehicle, which he had left idling in the strip club's parking lot when he returned to the club at 2:30 a.m.
Morris said Whittaker says he didn't tell anyone about the money, but some of the strip clubs employees indicate that he did.
"If he was drugged, and he was in a drowsy, groggy state, people might say things that they might not otherwise say and may not remember what they said, depending on how strong it was," Morris said.
When Whittaker finally left the club at 5 a.m. and discovered his car had been broken into, Pink Pony manager Jeff Caplinger allegedly tried to keep him from getting back into the club.
Caplinger "did not want him in that bar at that time and he tried to shove him aside," Morris said.
Morris said that seems suspicious. He said Caplinger, whose car was broken into around the time Whittaker's was, is one of a number of suspects.
Despite Caplinger's attempts, Whittaker dventually got inside and called 911 about 5:20 a.m.