Was it a scheme by a mastermind who developed a "remarkably unsophisticated, but almost successful plot" as prosecutors claimed, or was it "more of knuckleheads in the news" when a scheme was attempted to rig a $20,000 raffle drawing, as a defense attorney claimed?
Two Cumberland County men will stand before an Ohio criminal court judge tomorrow to learn their fate after both were convicted of their roles in a scheme to defraud a homecoming celebrating Ohio community of thousands of dollars during a raffle drawing.
Tommy Lawless, 60, described in the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a businessman and part-time gospel singer from Crossville, was convicted by a jury in Cleveland of attempted theft. Kenneth Ferguson, 62, a friend and past business associate, was convicted of obstruction of justice.
Both are to appear before Cuyahoga County Criminal Judge Janet Burnside tomorrow for sentencing. Both face up to a year in prison.
A Strongsville man, Gerald Hale, was found not guilty of being a part of the scheme and charges against Lawson's wife, Lana, were dropped.
Annually the community of Strongsville celebrates homecoming with an arts and crafts show, games, entertainment and food booths on the town square. On July 21, 2002, in something reminiscent of a scene out of Mayberry and the "Andy Griffith Show," Chamber of Commerce officers Tom Rakowsky and Doug Kawiecki carried a bin containing some 8,000 raffle tickets onto a stage for the midnight drawing, the Plain Dealer reported.
As the crowd pressed forward, a traditional call went out for the person who traveled the farthest to step forward and draw the winning ticket. Video cameras were rolling and a white-haired man step forward with a greeting of, "G'day mate, I'm from Sydney, Australia." Problem was, some in the crowd detected a faint accent that was more Southern than Aussie.
The Aussie who identified himself as "Dave" climbed onto the stage, shook hands with the mayor (his left hand) while palming a raffle ticket bearing the name of his wife and their Tennessee address.
Organizers watched as Lawless then thrust his right hand into the bin full of $5 raffle tickets and pulled out a winner, his wife's ticket. Onlookers weren't fooled and cried foul. When asked for identification, Lawson took off running across Ohio Hwy. 82, witnesses said.
During the July trial, Lawson testified, "When they went for the police, I went for the bushes," the Plain Dealer reported.
As the scene unfolded and Lawson made his escape, Ferguson stood munching on popcorn in the crowed and was seized as an accomplice and arrested. On Ferguson's cell phone were more than 50 calls placed to Gerald Hale, the festival's 2000 winner of the $20,000 raffle. Police arrested Hale and five days later Lawson turned himself into police.
The jury found that Ferguson was innocent of complicity and possession of a criminal tool, his cellphone. Likewise, the jury found Lawson innocent of all charges but the attempted theft charge. Hale was found not guilty of complicity and obstruction of justice and the court ruled that Lana Lawson was not part of the conspiracy and all charges against her were thrown out.