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 lawyer vowed to fight the charges.
Lottery winners collecting welfare benefits have embarrassed Michigan officials. Clayton is the second person in the state caught with food stamps despite newly minted wealth, and Gov. Rick Snyder last week signed a law requiring the lottery to notify the Human Services Department when someone wins at least $1,000.
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 a game show, "Make Me Rich!" and chose a $735,000 lump sum, before taxes, last 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.
Clayton, the mother of a 1-year-old, is accused of collecting approximately $5,475 in food stamps and public medical benefits over eight months until Detroit TV station WDIV 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.
Outside the court in suburban Detroit, defense attorney Stanley Wise said he would ask that charges be dropped at the next hearing, on April 24, when a judge is expected to decide whether there’s enough evidence to send the case to trial. He didn’t elaborate on his strategy.
After a night in jail, Clayton was "upset but she’ll be fine," Wise said.
Euline Clayton told reporters that her daughter used bad judgment but that a criminal case is "crap." She said Amanda called the Human Services Department about her winnings but could never reach anyone.
The charges "are very extreme. … They arrested her like a vulture," the elder Clayton said. "She didn’t steal $1 million."
Asked why her daughter didn’t write a check weeks ago to fix things, she replied: "It’s not that easy. Come on."
Clayton wasn’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 was allowed to temporarily keep his card because one-time windfalls at that time were not counted as regular income under the program.
The state has since banned anyone with assets of more than $5,000, excluding a car, from the food stamp program. That knocked Fick off the rolls.
Michigan Human Service Director Maura Corrigan said the new law requiring communications between the lottery and her agency "will make it easier to ensure that outrages involving instant millionaires on public assistance don’t happen in the future."