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Kevin Smith

Missouri Officials Bust

2 August 2004

All Nathan Leiweke wanted to do was make some money during his summer vacation before returning to college for the fall.

State officials in Missouri shut down Leiweke's web-based lottery operation after being tipped off about the site, which offered users a chance to buy a $2 ticket in exchange for a $20,000 grand prize to get their car "pimped out. "

A spokesperson with the Missouri Attorney General’s office said he wasn’t sure how long the site was up and running, but state law prohibits individuals from running lotteries.

Leiweke set up his site,, and allowed consumers to purchase $2 tickets for the grand prize to customize their cars. The Web site had the same name of a popular MTV show that takes a viewer's ordinary car and turns it into a "pimped out" hot rod.

With the Web site sharing the same name as the popular MTV show it didn’t take long for visitors to flood the lottery site. State officials said that although the site had no affiliation with the show or MTV networks, more than $24,000 in tickets were sold. The site drew entries from across the country. Some people entered as many as 100 times.

The Missouri AG's office filed court papers last week seeking an injunction to get the site shut down. The state said that nearly 4,400 customers bought 12,000 chances as part of the illegal lottery and the Leiweke deposited more than $27,000 into his PayPal account over the last two months.

The state also filed a civil fraud suit in Jefferson County Circuit Court. A judge issued a preliminary injunction on Tuesday barring Leiweke from advertising the lottery or selling more entries.

In a prepared statement about the case, Nixon said Missouri law is very clear on who can and can't operate lotteries and raffles.

"You can't just start selling chances for a lottery for your own personal gain," Nixon said. Missouri law restricts games of chance to those allowed by the state constitution or statutes. "Unfortunately," he said, "the reach of the Internet enables such illegal schemes to proliferate across the country."

Randall Sherman, Leiweke's attorney claimed his client had no intentions of breaking state laws when he set up his Pimp My Ride online raffle/lottery site. Sherman said that Leiweke "just thought it was something fun to do. And he could make some money off of it, too."

Nixon said Missouri law only allows for raffles and lotteries to be run by charities and non-profit organizations, neither of which Leiweke seemed to be tied to or operating the site for.

A spokesperson from Nixon's office did say that the site claimed that only half of the entry fees would be used for the grand prize with the other half going to "fees associated with maintenance and upkeep of the Web site and contest."

There was a stipulation that all users agreed to before purchasing their tickets that if fewer than 20,000 tickets were sold the money generated from the raffle would be donated to charity. There was no specific charity named on the site.

Sherman said some of the money generated from the tickets that had been sold was spent on the operation of the Web site and he was unclear how much was left in the Paypal account.

Sherman said that Leiweke was unaware that he was breaking any laws and as soon as state officials started investing the operation he cooperated fully with them. He said the site was shut down voluntarily before the courts could grant the injunction.

"Lots of people do raffles," Sherman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "As it turns out, Missouri has a state law that says you have to be a charity. But I don't think the average person would know that."

The spokesperson from Nixon’s office said that pleading "ignorance of applicable laws" was an unacceptable response in the eyes of the AG's office.

"We just can't allow people to set these things up and operate them on the Internet and then say they didn't know they were breaking the law and expect them to get away with it," he said.

At MTV in New York, a spokesman said the network was aware of the allegations and had no comment.

The state asked the judge to order Leiweke to pay restitution to consumers and penalties to the state.

Missouri Officials Bust is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith