, Salem, MA

March 21, 2014

Our view: Snays law would paint with too-broad brush

The Salem News

---- — What Daniel T. Snays is accused of doing with his state Lottery winnings is disgusting and horrifying.

The 62-year-old level 3 sex offender — level 3 offenders are considered to be the worst and most dangerous — was arrested on charges of using some of his $10 million windfall to bribe a young victim whom he had molested.

The criminal justice system is quickly responding — Snays has been arrested in his hometown of Uxbridge and faces serious penalties. If he is convicted, his record as a convicted sex offender will make the penalties even more severe.

It’s an awful crime, certainly something that taints the state Lottery.

But as is so often the case when a previously unheard of crime occurs that captures the public attention, some on Beacon Hill are immediately set into knee-jerk mode. That scenario is playing out with the Snays case.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman has begun to push for a law that prohibits lottery winners from using their winnings “to support criminal activities or threaten the safety and well-being of others.” The details have not yet been fleshed out, but presumably, the state would be empowered to strip lottery winners of their money.

We hope that calmer heads, such as the leadership shown by Senate President Therese Murray, will prevail. Murray and others are reticent to jump onto the bandwagon. Broad-based laws based on singular events are usually recipes for unintended consequences and problems. And that is what Grossman’s idea is poised to create. Better that a proposal like this be thoroughly examined, well after the initial furor has died down, than in the heat of the moment.

Given that Grossman is a candidate for governor, this has the smell of an election year headline-grabber. It certainly worked. It plays to our widely held belief that money derived from public sources cannot be used for illegal purposes.

In Snay’s case, even if such a law were in place, it would have no teeth. Snays has already collected his winnings. Grossman says his idea is aimed at preventing future situations and to give lawmen some added teeth.

We feel that a better and more effective use of the court system’s resources is to follow through with the traditional litigation path. A victim has the right to sue civilly for damages; it would be more appropriate to see the victim compensated rather than the state.

The Lottery is certainly a financial windfall for Massachusetts. Last fiscal year, it generated almost a billion dollars in revenue, money used to support local schools and governments. But we should not fool ourselves into believing that it holds the moral high ground. It generates plenty of societal woes. It preys on low-income citizens, it nurtures gambling addictions, and even those who win are not immune to hardship. Anecdotes abound regarding lottery winners who went bust and saw their lives ruined. Now, we see that it also played a role in aiding a sex offender’s alleged crime.

Snays is not the first person with a criminal mind to win the lottery. Mobster and murderer James “Whitey” Bulger “won” the lottery in 1991, splitting the winnings with three others. Bulger coerced the actual winner into “sharing” his windfall. It was an infamous case for the Lottery, perhaps one of the best examples of how impure our reliance on Lottery earnings really is.

We think the criminal justice system should deal with Snays in the strictest possible manner, and the victim should seek compensation from his estate. But a law like the one Grossman is pushing is not built on a solid platform.