A Michigan woman who became a poster child for welfare fraud when she continued collecting food stamps after winning a $1 million lottery last year has been found dead of an apparent drug overdose.
Amanda Clayton was just 24 when she was photographed with a giant check, dated Sept. 11, 2011, and wearing a broad smile. But her newfound celebrity quickly soured after the state said she had continued to receive $5,500 in food stamps and other benefits despite the winnings. Clayton pleaded no contest to fraud in June and was given six months' probation.
Her case went public in March after she was confronted by a Detroit television station, WDIV, and admitted collecting food stamps. "I thought that they would cut me off, but since they didn't, I thought maybe it was OK because I'm not working ... I mean, I have no income and I have bills to pay," she said, adding that she also had two houses to maintain.
Clayton was found dead in a friend's house Saturday in Ecorse, outside of Detroit, police announced, adding that an autopsy would determine if it was a drug overdose as suspected. The Associated Press quoted her attorney, Todd Flood, as saying that Clayton, the mother of two young children, had difficulties handling the notoriety that followed the revelations of her welfare case.
"I think the public scrutiny was something she didn't have the proper tools to deal with," he said.
Clayton opted to take her winnings in a lump sum, which amounted to $735,000. But after taxes, Clayton said, she got a little more than half that. Flood told AP she still had some of the money when she died but it was a "far cry from where she started."
Her welfare fraud case came two years after another Michigan lottery winner, Leroy Fick, gained infamy for continuing to collect food stamps after winning $2 million. Fick's lawyer successfully argued that he had not broken any rules because his lottery winnings were an asset, not income, and state law based food stamp eligibility solely on income.
The case prompted a change in state law that required lottery officials to notify the state of new winners and that introduced new asset tests to determine eligibility for food stamps.
Fick, meanwhile, is reportedly destitute after squandering his winnings, and in August he pleaded no contest to felony larceny and weapons possession charges. Fick was accused of stealing firearms from his mother and selling them to a pawn shop for cash to keep his electricity turned on.