Broken Dreams

Lusk leaves Tampa
Richard Lusk is helped over to an airplane at Tampa International Airport by airport police officer William S. Rankin and Jim Lyons, an investigator in the Economics Crimes Division in the office of the Attorney General in Tampa. (Times photo: Tony Lopez)

Sweepstakes player makes 2nd fruitless trip


©St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 1998

TAMPA -- 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.

So Thursday, holding a brand new sweepstakes letter promising him $11-million dollars, Lusk flew to Tampa for the second time in three months in search of another prize he hadn't won.
Previous Times coverage:
Ensnared in the hype (Oct. 24, 1997)
"I'm here to claim my prize" (Jan. 10)
Firm yanks 2 mailings (Jan. 17)

"Things were a little different on this last thing," Lusk said Friday, before boarding a flight home. "There's that one little sentence in real small print, but in the big letters they say "You are the winner.' No way they can deny that."

The company has come under increasing attack recently for its marketing tactics, including a new lawsuit filed Friday in Maryland by consumer advocacy lawyers who say the company sent out misleading publicity about an $11-million sweepstakes.

A company spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit but defended the mailings and said Lusk was confused.

"After Lusk's last trip to Tampa, AFP removed him from all mailing lists and reimbursed his travel costs," Lonni Miller, a company spokeswoman, said in a faxed statement.

But Lusk clutched the evidence in his hand: "RICHARD LUSK, FINAL RESULTS ARE IN AND THEY'RE OFFICIAL: YOU'RE OUR NEWEST $11,000,000.00 WINNER!"

Lusk picked the mailing up at his post office in Victorville, Calif., on Wednesday, said his son, Bill Lusk.

Lusk's trip and the latest lawsuit marred a day when the company had expected only good publicity. American Family Publishers spokesmen Dick Clark and Ed McMahon drew a winning sweepstakes number worth $1-million during paid advertisement on the Today program Friday.

Hours after the winning number was announced, however, McMahon and Clark were both named as defendants in the Maryland lawsuit.

"The mailings utilize the interstate mails for fraudulent solicitations designed to mislead plaintiffs into ordering magazines," said Gary Peller, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center who is bringing the suit.

The Maryland state court lawsuit is similar to a federal suit filed Jan. 21 in Tampa, which cites breach of contract and violation of federal racketeering statutes. Both lawsuits are seeking class-action status, which means they could represent millions of sweepstakes contestants.

Florida's Attorney General's office also is investigating American Family Publishers, and three Florida legislators have announced plans to introduce bills regulating sweepstakes mailings.

Since Lusk's trip in October, the Times has documented about 20 cases of people flying to Tampa to claim sweepstakes millions they had not won.

AFP solicitations are processed by Time Customer Service, a sister company under the Time Warner umbrella, and carry a Tampa return address.

Lusk's son says that despite his disappointment in October, his father continues to be obsessed with dreams of winning the American Family sweepstakes. Only now he's more secretive about it.

He didn't tell his son, who lives 400 miles away, that he was coming to Tampa again. Instead, he arranged a caretaker for his ailing wife, then drove 45 miles to the airport in Ontario, Calif.

Lusk bought a ticket for $1,800 and flew into Tampa on United Airlines Thursday night. He rented a car from Avis and spent the night at an Econo Lodge on Dale Mabry Highway.

His son, alerted by the nurse, spent Thursday night on the telephone to airport police and American Family Publishers trying to locate his father.

Friday morning Lusk went in search of a company office. Lusk called an 800-number listed on the flier and asked for directions on where to deliver his winning entry, which carried a five-day deadline.

He was apparently told to mail his entry and spent Friday morning in downtown Tampa asking people how to find the company offices.

While Lusk drove around Tampa, Tampa International Airport police, Tampa police, sheriff's deputies, AFP employees and an investigator with the Attorney General's office looked for him. Airport police found him about 2:15 Friday afternoon in a Burger King at the airport. Lusk was interviewed briefly by Jim Lyons, an investigator with the Attorney General's office.

Then, Lusk was met by a line of reporters and camera crews and two lawyers, Guy Burns and Frank Jakes, who filed the federal class action lawsuit.

Lusk refused to say anything negative about American Family Publishers. He said he doesn't want to hurt his chances of winning. Besides, he says, he tries not to get too excited about sweepstakes.

"You can't let yourself be eaten up by the damn thing," he said.
-- Information from Reuters was used in this report.

©Copyright 1998 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.