LINCOLN PARK, Mich. — A Michigan lottery winner was charged with fraud Tuesday for collecting food stamps and public health insurance despite pocketing a $735,000 jackpot.
Amanda Clayton, 25, was silent during a brief court hearing after spending a night in jail. A not-guilty plea was entered, and her attorney vowed to fight the charges.
Ms. Clayton is the second person in Michigan caught with food stamps despite newly minted wealth. Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed a law requiring the lottery to notify the Human Services Department when someone wins at least $1,000.
Ms. Clayton is charged with failing to inform the state that her income had changed as a result of the lottery prize and a job. She won a $1 million jackpot on the game show “Make Me Rich!” and chose a $735,000 lump sum, before taxes, in September.
“It’s simply common sense that million-dollar lottery winners forfeit their right to public assistance,” said Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose office filed the charges. The maximum penalty is four years in prison.
Ms. Clayton, the mother of a 1-year-old, is accused of collecting $5,475 in food stamps and public medical benefits over eight months until WDIV-TV in Detroit broke the story in March. She told WDIV that she believed she could collect food aid because she didn’t have a job at the time.
The amount of money is a speck compared with the roughly $250 million that Michigan spends each month just on food assistance. Mr. Schuette’s spokeswoman, Joy Yearout, declined to comment on why the attorney general chose felony charges over a civil lawsuit or why Ms. Clayton was arrested and locked up overnight for a nonviolent crime.
Outside the court in suburban Detroit, defense attorney Stanley Wise said he would ask that charges be dropped at the next hearing on May 1, when a judge must decide whether there is enough evidence to send the case to trial. He didn’t elaborate on his strategy.
“They want to make an example of her,” Mr. Wise later said, referring to state officials. “She’s offered to repay the money. They haven’t even sent her a bill. If that were the only issue, it would be over and done.”
Euline Clayton told reporters that her daughter used bad judgment but that a criminal case is punitive. She said her daughter called the Human Services Department about her lottery winnings but could never reach anyone.
The charges “are very extreme. … They arrested her like a vulture,” the elder Ms. Clayton said. “She didn’t steal $1 million.”
Ms. Clayton isn’t the first Michigan lottery winner to keep claiming public benefits. Leroy Fick, 60, of Bay County was using the food program despite winning an $850,000 lump sum prize in 2010. He told officials about his wealth, but he was allowed to temporarily keep his card because one-time windfalls at that time were not counted as regular income under the program.
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