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Minnesota lottery chief's suicide note: 'Pity me, blame no one else'

Mar 26, 2004, 8:42 am

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Minnesota LotteryMinnesota Lottery: Minnesota lottery chief's suicide note: 'Pity me, blame no one else'

Before committing suicide in January, Minnesota State Lottery Director George Andersen left handwritten notes encouraging his family to "not look back."

He said he thought lottery operations were "proper and am told they are not. Pity me, blame no one else." He added in another note: "I must carry the burden and it is too much. . . ."

Andersen, 53, had run the lottery since it started in 1990 and had done so with little legislative oversight. The state Legislative Auditor reported recently that the lottery had excessive expenses and challenged its dealings with a promotions firm.

Andersen died from an overdose of the painkiller hydrocodone, according to the final autopsy report by the Ramsey County medical examiner's office.

The report was released Thursday by the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which investigated Andersen's death.

Sheriff's Cmdr. Scott Malinosky noted that the primary cause of death had changed from hypothermia, which now is considered a secondary cause along with slashed wrists. The case is closed, he said.

Andersen's wife found him unconscious outside their Hugo home Jan. 27. A filet knife lay nearby. It was the morning after the Legislative Auditor's office spent 10 hours going over its findings with him.

Darlene Andersen later told investigators that when her husband went to work to face the 10-hour meeting, "he acted like he was going to his execution." He been depressed over the weekend as the audit approached, she said. He told her he feared he'd lose his job and they would "lose everything."

The notes and findings on the cause of Andersen's death were released on the same day that the lottery decided to sever its final ties with Media Rare, a public relations and promotions firm founded by a friend of Andersen's. The lottery sent Media Rare a letter Thursday announcing it will cancel a contract to lease a semitrailer truck used as a traveling exhibit to promote the use of lottery profits for environmental projects.

Cancellation of the Environmental Experience Vehicle contract will save the lottery about $300,000, said Dale McDonnell, a lawyer for the lottery.

The Legislative Auditor, in a scathing report on the lottery in February, called the truck exhibit "an ill-conceived and poorly managed project."

After the report, the lottery canceled a $1.2 million contract with Media Rare to produce and distribute a weekly television program.

The Minnesota Lottery had a much larger staff and spent more on operating expenses than did other lotteries, according to the auditors' evaluation. As a result, the lottery in 2002 returned only 21 percent of its revenue to the state for environmental projects and other programs, while eight similar-size states returned an average of 27 percent. The Minnesota Lottery spent more than six times as much on promotions as did comparable state lotteries, auditors found.

In his note to his wife and two grown children, Andersen wrote: "I love you all. Never doubt yourselves. I hid my intentions with all my strength."

Andersen's longtime co-worker and family friend, Michael Keyser, said the family believes Andersen meant he hid his intentions to kill himself.

Keyser, who was at the family's home Thursday, said they gave him a simple statement: "The family has always considered George's death a selfless act of love because he thought they were going to lose everything.

"He was not thinking clearly," Keyser said. "He had been sleep-deprived for several weeks and was clearly affected by some sort of depression. I have learned that when someone is depressed they have blinders on. I know people offered help."

McDonnell, the lottery attorney, said Andersen's note about hiding his intentions may have referred to his behavior with lottery staff after the auditors' session.

"A number of us met with him after the meeting, and I got no hint," McDonnell said Thursday. "He was talking about how he would address the audit when it was released, or whether he should resign or not. So he was still talking about what he's going to do in the future. Maybe that's what he meant by he hid his intentions to end his life."

McDonnell, who knew Andersen for years, was surprised by the finding that he died primarily from an overdose of a painkiller. But he said Andersen rarely talked about his physical condition, and posthumous reports that he had diabetes came as a surprise to lottery employees.

Keyser said the family thinks another, unaddressed note was intended for lottery staff. It said: "I did not understand my actions, and am at fault because of that. Ignorance is no excuse. I thought things proper and am told they are not."

Keyser, who has known Andersen since he worked with him on the Pennsylvania lottery in the 1980s, said he thinks Andersen thought his dealings with Media Rare were proper, "but the auditor has a different view of it. The note says to blame no one else. He takes full responsibility for his actions. That's the kind of man he was."

He said Andersen worked with Media Rare to increase lottery sales, which had plateaued. "He was trying everything he could think of to grow sales. In hindsight it's easy to criticize his marketing plan, but marketing plans don't always perform as expected."

Andersen also penned a "Last Will and Testament" in which he left all his belongings to his wife. He asked for no services and "the cheapest funeral possible."

Andersen's note to his family concluded, "Please forgive me someday. I pray you will find comfort. I am sorry."

Star Tribune

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