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Belleville News-Democrat

Victims may get hit again
Settlement weighed in class-action suit
August 14, 2002

By Jayne Matthews

Canadian con man James Blair Down spent six months in a U.S. federal prison and walked away a multimillionaire, thanks to about $300 million stolen in a lottery scam that targeted older people.

Today a Madison County judge is expected to decide whether Down's roughly 42,000 American victims will share $6 million from him, or about $143 each, while their lawyers get $2 million and another $2 million goes to administrative costs.

”Ironically, if not tragically, the elderly victims of the scheme appear poised to become victims a second time -- of ‘class action' justice in Madison County,'' said a report of the Center for Legal Policy of the Manhattan Institute.

The report claims the lawsuit was filed by a South Carolina lawyer in Madison County because its courts are known as a ``class-action paradise,'' where class-action attorneys are favored and accommodated.

Last week a $300 million class-action settlement in Madison County yielded $80 for each customer who rented a phone from AT&T and Lucent, while the attorneys shared $75 million.

The Down case that has drawn national attention and the settlement that has drawn criticism in legal circles now sits in the lap of Madison County Circuit Judge Nicholas Byron. At a hearing in Edwardsville today, Byron may or may not approve the controversial, out-of-court settlement that he's already rejected once.

The judge on Tuesday said he will not respond in detail to the Manhattan Institute report, which was entitled, ``Anatomy of a Madison County, Illinois, Class Action: A Study of Pathology.''

``That article, in my opinion, is very slanted by people not involved,'' Byron said. ``Our courts are just as viable as any in the United States, and that's all I have to say.''

Byron in June delayed final approval of the Down settlement because he did not think the cable television and magazine ads that notified possible victims of the settlement was adequate. At that time only 4,000 people had responded to the ads.

The Manhattan Institute report estimated there were about 42,000 victims in the United States. Down may have had 400,000 victims worldwide.

Some elderly victims of Down filed a class-action lawsuit after he went to a U.S. federal prison for bilking them in a lottery scam that was supposed to pool their money, buy lottery tickets and distribute the winnings. Down had telemarketers working out of Canada and Barbados.

A Canadian judge presiding over other matters in the case said Down will walk out of prison ``a very wealthy man,'' according to the Manhattan Institute report.

Down had stashed more than $100 million in banks all over the world, according to Interclaim, an Irish firm that tracks and seizes hidden assets.

Interclaim was brought into the case by federal prosecutors. The firm later used its findings to hire H. Blair Hahn of South Carolina to file the lawsuit against Down on behalf of the scam victims.

Interclaim was cut out of the class-action settlement, and a Canadian judge has ordered the company to pay Down $1.4 million for illegally freezing some of the money.

Interclaim also spent “several million dollars'' tracking the money and seeking orders from Canadian courts to freeze Down's assets, the Manhattan Institute report said.

Byron in June postponed a ruling on the settlement and ordered lawyers to use the longer list of victims compiled by Interclaim during its search for Down's hidden money.

Class-action attorney Stephen Tillery of Belleville requested the use of Interclaim's list.

Sept. 6 is the deadline for people who fell prey to the scam to file claims for part of the $6 million still left of the settlement money.

©2002 Belleville News-Democrat



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