Prosecutor: Phony raffle impossible to prove

Friday, August 5, 2005

The Rev. David Butler provided evidence that the raffle was honest, prosecutor Morley Swingle said.

Proving a local preacher ran a phony raffle would have been impossible, Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle said Thursday.

After a painstaking investigation by the Cape Girardeau Sheriff's Department, enough evidence existed to support the Rev. David Butler's claim that the raffle was honest. The only choice was to drop the case, Swingle said.

"It would have been a waste of money to go to trial," Swingle said in an interview Thursday. "There would have been an acquittal."

Wednesday, Butler's attorney, Allen Moss, announced that felony charges of stealing by deceit and unlawful merchandising practices against his client had been dismissed in exchange for Butler refunding $16,820 to anyone who purchased a ticket. The money will be sent by Swingle's office to people named on ticket stubs collected during raffle sales.

In a letter to Sheriff John Jordan, Swingle detailed the evidence in Butler's favor and apologized "if any of your investigators feel like my office let them down."

The raffle last winter was advertised as supporting the Shepherd's Cove Children's Home. Tickets, at the price of $30 each or four for $100, were supposed to yield the winner a new Nissan 350ZX worth $38,320.

Charges were filed after the raffle never gave away the car and investigators discovered Butler had placed nearly $10,000 from the ticket sales in a personal account.

The dismissal, while disappointing, won't bring much griping from the sheriff's department, Jordan said. "It doesn't mean that if a prosecutor dismisses a case that a crime has not been committed. A lot of times that doesn't make the police happy, but we are not going to grumble and gripe about it even though we might not agree with it."

Although the dismissal ends the investigation of the raffle, Jordan said it doesn't close the department's book on Butler. "We've still got things that are going on with this. There are still other elements to this investigation."

Butler was minister of the Abundant Life Church on Route K near Gordonville. Shepherd's Cove, which sits next to the church, was operated by Butler's Calvary Ministries.

The dismissed charges alleged that Butler deceived ticket buyers by saying the home was a licensed foster care facility and that he took the money for personal use.

In his letter to Jordan, Swingle said defense attorney Moss presented evidence showing Butler intended to hold the raffle but never sold enough tickets to pay for the car.

Butler "couldn't immediately return the money because he didn't have enough cash on hand to make the refunds," Swingle wrote.

Although the home was not registered as a not-for-profit with the state and didn't have a state license, Swingle wrote, the IRS had granted it not-for-profit status and a state Division of Family Services employee had told Butler it was a licensed facility.

The raffle was illegal, Swingle said, because it is against state law to gamble. Unless the tickets are technically free and the payment is a donation -- and printed rules state that no purchase is necessary -- both Butler and the 222 people who bought tickets could be prosecuted, Swingle said.

"This did not strike me as a good use of the resources of my office, nor as something that the public would want the prosecutor to do," Swingle wrote to Jordan.

The source of the money used for refunds isn't important, Swingle said. "I neither know nor care where he got the money," he said.

The charges and controversy over the raffle have devastated Butler's family and finances, Moss said. Shepherd's Cove has closed and is for sale, he noted.

"It has been operating on the thinnest of margins for the last few years anyway," Moss said.

Butler lost his job when the charges were filed, Moss said. And he lost his church. "I don't think the damage to his reputation will ever be repaired."

rkeller@semissourian.com

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