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Sweepstakes promo lures yet another

An 84-year-old man is the latest person to fly to Tampa to claim a prize he hadn't won. A spokesman says the man's air fare was reimbursed.

Lee Brownell, 84, traveled from Salem, Va., to the Time Customer Service building in Tampa on Thursday. [Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

By KATHRYN WEXLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 2, 1998


TAMPA -- Over the years, Lee Brownell has spent $20,000 on magazines, videos and books for sweepstakes contests, so the 84-year-old wasn't going to let this opportunity slip through his hands.

Broken Dreams

More sweepstakes debate coverage from the Times.

Not when he understood a People magazine "Grand Prize winning entry" mailing to mean he was a postage stamp away from winning.

But Brownell needed to get his entry to Tampa by Oct. 1 or he could kiss the $1,667,6755 prize goodbye, he said Thursday, standing in front of the glass-paneled Time Customer Service building on Dale Mabry Highway.

"It said to respond, otherwise I lose," said Brownell, a retired interior decorator who lives alone with his poodle, Minji, in Salem, Va. "The only way I could respond (in time) was come," he said.

Brownell won't return home a millionaire. A spokesman for People magazine, which is owned by Time Inc., called the incident "unfortunate."

The spokesman, Peter Costiglio, said Brownell is not a winner. Furthermore, returning his entry form before the October deadline does not increase his chances of winning any prize, Costiglio said.

The Times has documented more than two dozen cases of elderly people who have flown to Tampa thinking they've won jackpots through American Family Publishers, which is partially owned by Time Inc.

Like Brownell, they've often spent thousands on subscriptions and books they don't want because they understand the mailings to say the purchases will increase the likelihood of their winning big.

In January, Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth sued American Family Publishers over state consumer laws. Other states have also sued AFP and dozens of people have filed private lawsuits against sweepstakes companies, saying they were deceived. A U.S. Senate subcommittee is looking into the issue.

Brownell had big plans for the money. He always longed to buy his wife a house of her own. "A nice house," he said.

But his wife died in February. So he decided the prize would help others. "I planned on helping sick people who don't have any money," he said.

Tampa International Airport police called Jim Lyons, a Florida attorney general's investigator, and told him to come get Brownell. Lyons drove him to the Time Customer Service building Thursday and asked that Brownell be treated with "some dignity."

"Our experience is that these people are quite often treated quite poorly by Time Customer Service," Lyons said.

A little later, employees for Time Customer Service whisked Brownell through a back door so he would not have a chance to speak with a reporter and drove him to the airport. Costiglio said they reimbursed him for his $653 fare.

"We had his welfare in mind," he said.

 

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