Hijacked Code Let Lottery Fraudster Win $24M

It all started with a convo about 'secret numbers' and a search for Bigfoot
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 27, 2018 9:01 AM CDT
Updated Mar 31, 2018 11:40 AM CDT
How Eddie Tipton Scammed $24M From the Lottery
Former lottery computer programmer Eddie Tipton speaks during his sentencing hearing on Aug. 22, 2017, at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines, Iowa.   (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

The Iowa man behind the biggest US lotto scam ever was a "very large" and "kind of lonesome" geek, according to his own brother, and he didn't set out to rig more than $24 million for the money: Eddie Tipton says he did it for the challenge. USA Today lays out Tipton's "untold story" in full, starting in 2005, when a co-worker at the Multi-State Lottery Association, where Tipton was a software programmer and head of IT security, uttered the sentence that changed everything. "Hey, did you put your secret numbers in there?," accountant Gene Schaller asked, tipping Tipton off that since he wrote the code for the lottery's numbers-generating software, there was nothing stopping him from placing code in there to get the numbers to go the way he wanted. And that's exactly what Tipton did, finagling the system so that he and his brother, Tommy, could win big time.

The Tiptons were arrested in 2015 for fraud, per Time, and pleaded guilty to felony charges; Tommy got 75 days behind bars, while Eddie, now 54, is still serving up to 25 years in prison, with a chance for parole in three years or so, per his lawyers. But it's the story of what happened in between that first conversation with Schaller and his sentencing that's most intriguing, including how he was hired by the lottery system with a criminal background (he'd been involved with a warehouse theft and also in stealing software from Sears as a teen), how he'd actually tried to clue his employers in to the vulnerability of their software, and how the Tiptons' first big win was helped along by … a search for Bigfoot. As for Schaller, the guy who first planted the seed in Tipton's head? He still works for the MSLA. More in USA Today, which also details the mistake that was Tipton's undoing. (Read more lottery stories.)

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