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A $5 million lottery winner pleaded guilty to scamming friends out of more than $1 million.

Kelly Lhotak thought she was helping a close friend struggling with unending problems with the IRS when she agreed to loan her more than $622,000 over a 16-year period. 

But Lhotak, a 54-year-old who lives near Rapid City, later learned that she was among the six victims of a California woman who scammed more than $1 million from them after already winning more than $5 million in the California lottery. 

"My heart is broken. I have had the worst betrayal of a friendship that anyone can ever experience," said Lhotak, who moved to the area in 2002. 

Judy Lynn Carroll, a 59-year-old from El Cajon, California, pleaded guilty at the federal courthouse in Rapid City last week to four counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion after admitting she scammed Lhotak and five others.

"It's been a long time coming, and she deserves punishment for what she did for several victims," Lhotak said. 

Carroll was originally charged with 35 counts of wire fraud, but that original indictment was dropped as part of her plea deal. 

Each of Carroll's wire-fraud counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison while the tax-evasion charge can carry a punishment of up to five years in prison. The prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence within the range of Carroll's sentencing guideline, the plea agreement says. 

Carroll also is expected to pay a total of $1.55 million in restitution, according to the plea deal. Of that, $622,236.01 is for Lhotak and $618,000 is for five other people she scammed. 

The remainder of the restitution money, $310,078, will be paid to the IRS and represents tax loss from Carroll's unreported gross income over a period of 17 years. 

Carroll and her husband won $5.2 million in the California lottery in 1989, which was to be paid out over a 20-year period, according to the statement of facts document signed by Carroll. She met Lhotak in the mid-1990s when they were neighbors in El Cajon, a city in California’s San Diego County. 

Starting in November 2000 and continuing until October 2016, Carroll schemed Lhotak out of $622,236.01 by telling her the IRS froze all her assets and she owed the agency money, the document says. However, the IRS only once, in 2007-2008, froze and took a levy from Carroll's accounts. She also once said she needed money to help her husband, falsely claiming that his identity was stolen.

Lhotak asked Carroll in 2003 why the IRS issue hadn't been resolved. In late 2006, she asked her friend to provide proof of her financial situation, the document says. In both cases, Carroll provided false responses to Lhotak's question.

Lhotak said she didn't doubt Carroll's stories until she called the IRS in October 2016 to ask if her friend owed tax liens. The agency said she didn't. She said that call prompted the IRS to launch an investigation. 

"I did it because I loved her with all my heart," Lhotak said of why she loaned money to Carroll.

To protect yourself from a similar scheme, she said, "My advice would be to continue to love other people just as you always have. Trust but verify" what they say. 

Carroll also received $618,000 by conducting similar schemes with five other people, the statement of facts document says. Her tax-evasion charge stems from attempting to evade $310,078 in taxes since 1999. 

During the Nov. 16 sentencing hearing, court records show that Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy agreed to let Carroll stop wearing an ankle monitor, which she was required to wear as part of her conditions of release after being arrested by the FBI in Montana on Oct. 12, 2017.

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— Contact Arielle Zionts at arielle.zionts@rapidcityjournal.com

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Criminal justice reporter