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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
. [10/2]
[Times photo: Dirk Shadd]

The controversy surrounding the familiar mailings of American FamilyPublishers is full of heart-breaking stories, many of them centering around the would-be millionaires from around the country flying to Tampa to claim what they believe will be the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Here are some of the stories from the pages of the St. Petersburg Times:

State amends sweepstakes suit
The state says American Family Publishers sends repeat customers increasingly misl
eading solicitations.

Judge: Return sweepstakes papers to firm
TAMPA -- A Hillsborough circuit judge ordered Tuesday that about 2,000 pages of Time Customer Service documents taken by a former sweepstakes manager be returned to the company. [8/19/98]

Judge okays interviews in sweepstakes case
The Attorney General's Office can talk to former employees of Time Customer Service, a judge says. [7/29/98]

Ex-sweepstakes worker may talk to state
A judge says the attorney general can interview a former American Family Publishers executive. [7/22/98]

  • Regulation isn't dead yet
    After recommending a small-scale program be ended, the Secretary of State's office is now asking for help saving it.

Suit: Sweepstakes misled on purpose (July 17, 1998)
TAMPA -- An ex-manager who had to tell people face-to-face that they didn't win millions sues for emotional distress.

State senator says sweepstakes bill being held hostage: (April 25, 1998)

Victim of the hype: Richard Lusk of California holds what he believed to be the winning sweepstakes notification.
(Times file photo)
TALLAHASSEE -- Legislation regulating the way sweepstakes companies promote their contests may not be a winner in Tallahassee this year.

Another sweepstakes 'winner' lured to Tampa (April 1, 1998): George Lum was so certain he had won the American Family Publishers sweepstakes that he wrote $1-million checks to each of his five children, left his home and ailing wife in Honolulu and flew to Tampa to collect his prize.

Sweepstakes mail sweeps hope along (March 24, 1998): LARGO -- Anna Merl just wants the mail to stop. Her 42-year-old son, Karl, who was brain-damaged when his car collided with a train 14 years ago, is hooked on American Family Publishers sweepstakes. For the past 10 years, Anna has written and called the company numerous times asking that it stop mailing her son.

Sweepstakes policies changing (March 14, 1998): Faced with more than a dozen lawsuits and stung by months of negative publicity, American Family Publishers is making changes in response to some of its legal and public relations problems.

Suit seeks millions from sweepstakes (Feb. 3, 1998): The Florida attorney general says American Family Publishers' "unlawful deception" misleads consumers.

Sweepstakes player makes 2nd fruitless trip (Jan. 31, 1998): After Richard Lusk flew to Tampa in October thinking he was a sweepstakes winner, American Family Publishers promised it would take the 88-year-old California man off its mailing lists. But temptation continued to arrive in his mailbox.

Lawmaker calls for regulation of sweepstakes (Jan. 23, 1998): Angered by what he calls "deceptive" and "fraudulent" sweepstakes promotions, a Florida lawmaker said Thursday he will sponsor a bill to regulate the mailings sent by the industry.

Sweepstake firm yanks 2 mailings (Jan. 17, 1998): Faced with a possible state lawsuit and stung by reports of contestants flying to Tampa to claim millions they haven't won, American Family Publishers says it will stop mailing two sweepstakes solicitations.

Florida demands sweepstakes end deception (Jan. 15, 1998): In a month when sweepstakes letters are filling Florida mailboxes, state Attorney General Bob Butterworth has demanded that American Family Publishers stop mailing "deceptive" and "reprehensible" sweepstakes pitches.

I'm here to claim my prize (Jan. 10, 1998): Life has not been easy for Marilyn West. Drug dealers who control her Baltimore neighborhood threaten her and her two daughters daily. West said she grew up in an abusive home and married an abusive husband. She chronicled her troubled life in a 173-page autobiography she calls Miles of Fear. She hoped the book would be a ticket out of her troubled neighborhood. But before her agent could find a publisher, West opened a letter from American Family Publishers spokesmen Ed McMahon and Dick Clark.

Couple keeps hoping as mail piles up (Nov. 2, 1997): One Tuesday last month, Thomas and Mabel Clark drove their 1988 camper van to Dimmitt Cadillac on U.S. 19 to do some shopping. A letter from a sweepstakes company in hand, the couple believed they would have no trouble paying for a new car with the $3,628,000 prize.

The lure of big money (Nov. 2, 1997): Richard Lusk is not the first sweepstakes victim to fly into Tampa International Airport in search of winnings. Airport police report at least eight identical incidents over the past few years.

Too many miss the fine print (Times editorial, Oct. 29, 1997): We've all seen the come-ons. They litter our mailboxes several times a month. And if we didn't know better, we would believe the blaring headlines telling us that we're instant millionaires.

Ensnared in sweepstakes' hype (Oct. 24, 1997): Richard Lusk, age 88, lives in the desert just off Interstate 15, the highway that carries California gamblers to the high stakes dreams in Las Vegas. But for six years, Lusk has done his dreaming from home.

Marilyn West

Tough day in Tampa: Marilyn West explains her dilemma to Jim Lyons, a financial investigator in the Economics Crimes Division at the office of the Attorney General in Tampa. Her two daughters listen as she speaks. They are left to right, Jessica Elizabeth Tyson and Hope Angel West, center. (Times photo: Tony Lopez)

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