DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - A Lincoln Park woman who collected welfare benefits despite winning a big lottery prize pleaded no contest to fraud Thursday and likely will be sentenced to probation.
Lawyers for Amanda Clayton, a 25-year-old mother of two, were disappointed that state prosecutors would not settle the case without a felony charge.
"Ambitions often get in the way of good justice," Todd Flood told The Associated Press outside court.
There is no dispute that Clayton collected about $5,500 in food aid and medical benefits after winning a $735,000 lottery prize, before taxes, last year. After Clayton was confronted by TV station WDIV, the state charged her with fraud and said she should have informed the Department of Human Services about her windfall.
Clayton, who bought a new home and a car with her winnings, has said she felt entitled to the welfare handout.
"I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn't, I thought maybe it was okay because I'm not working … I feel that it's okay because I mean, I have no income and I have bills to pay. I have two houses … It's just hard, you know. I'm struggling," she told WDIV.
Clayton said little in court on Thursday and later declined to comment.
A no contest plea is treated like a guilty plea for the purpose of setting a sentence. Lawyers told Wayne County Circuit Judge Margie Braxton that they agreed probation is appropriate when Clayton returns to court on July 24.
Flood said there were "viable defenses" to the charges but Clayton "wanted closure."
A message seeking comment was not immediately returned by the Michigan attorney general's office, which handled the case. In announcing the charges back in April, Attorney General Bill Schuette said, "We can't cheat, we can't take advantage, and when you do that it really robs the taxpayers and it robs those who are in great need of help for a period of time from the state. So, there are issues that are right or wrong, this is wrong, and that's why we filed the charges."
On April 11, Governor Rick Snyder signed new legislation requiring the Michigan Lottery to notify the DHS about any lottery winners awarded $1,000 or more within seven days. The legislation also provided for specific asset tests to help determine eligibility for some public assistance programs.
Clayton was not charged under the new laws, because her crimes took place in 2011.
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