Angle Heart

Scottsdale's Greg Crane calls himself an entrepreneur. Prosecutors in three states call him a grifter. But he's such a young man.

Another completed form unfurled from a fax machine in Crane's office. "That's what we like to see," he said. Crane had called me in that morning to discuss another offer. He said a contest had been illegally rigged against him, and he wanted me to write about it.

Here's the story:
Two Valley car dealerships--Liberty Buick and Peoria Pontiac--held a joint promotional drawing on Labor Day for $10,000 in cash or a 1997 Pontiac Sunfire, winner's choice. The contest had been advertised for about a week. The idea was, come down and check out the cars, enter to win. Both dealerships had red paper tickets in their showrooms for people to use as entry forms. The written rules for the contest said you had to write your name, address and phone number on the back. They said the winner had to pay taxes and licensing fees on the prize. They said relatives and spouses of dealership employees were prohibited from entering. But nowhere did they say one entry per person.

On August 28, Crane showed up at the dealership with 12,000 identical red tickets. Four thousand were stamped with Crane's information, 4,000 with his wife's and 4,000 with a friend's. Crane asked a secretary to sign a statement acknowledging receipt of the 12,000 tickets, then presented the management with a letter:

"As you can see, my friends and my hobby is to enter sweepstakes, raffles and drawings. We love to enter as often as possible in order to increase or guarantee our winnings. We realize that promotions like yours are put on for advertising reasons, and that you really don't care who wins the drawings, but only that you can advertise that you're having a drawing, in order to attract new customers into your stores.

"Thank you in advance for allowing pure, non-bias chance to determine who will win, based purely on chance and the amount of times that any individual has chosen to enter."

The letter was signed Greg Crane, and closed with "P.S. We love your dealership!"

The sentiment was not mutual.
Crane, wearing a hidden microphone, attended the Labor Day drawing with his lawyer. When one of the dealership's managers came into the showroom with the box full of entries, Crane demanded to look inside. All of his entries were packed tightly into a brick at the bottom, and the rest--about 400 entries, compared to Crane's 12,000--were sprinkled over the top like nuts on a sundae. Crane began to protest and snap pictures; on the tape, the manager is heard laughing. "Well, we're not going to give it to an asshole," he said, then reached into the box and withdrew a ticket. It wasn't one of Crane's.

"Nice ethics, huh?" says Crane, whose lawyer is preparing a lawsuit against the dealerships. Last year, Crane won a similar lawsuit against Norwest Bank for simply tossing out 5,000 entries he submitted to a promotional drawing for a new Chevy S-10 pickup. Court records show the bank had approximately 400 entries from the general public, which put Crane's odds of winning at 88 percent (Crane had a 98 percent chance of winning the Peoria Pontiac drawing). Norwest settled out of court. Crane says he got $12,000.

Entering contests is just a fun, easy way to pick up some extra cash and prizes, Crane says. He always keeps his eyes out for contests with printed rules that leave open a loophole. "You have to obey the rules in life," he says. "I just like to obey them to a T."

And most of the time, he doesn't have to sue--he just wins. In July of 1995, a brief article in the Phoenix Gazette headlined 'You've Got to Hand It to Comedy Central Winner' told how Greg Crane, owner of a Scottsdale mail-order business, just won a sweepstakes held by the cable network Comedy Central. Crane got $15,000 and a trip around the world. "I'm just a lucky guy," Crane was quoted. "But then, luck is what you make it." The Comedy Central contest called for entrants to submit a sketch of a hand. Crane drew one splattered with blood.

"I entered that one over 10,000 times," Crane says of the Comedy Central giveaway. "I entered by fax. The machine was running day and night for 10 days. It was a great trip. We went to London, Thailand, trekking through Nepal. We each had our own personal Sherpa. They even carried your water bottle. It was excellent."

Crane said he's won about $35,000 in cash and prizes since 1995, not counting the Norwest and Comedy Central drawings. Now he hopes to bolster that tally with a settlement from Peoria Pontiac/Liberty Buick.

He offered me $150--apparently relaxed in the belief that journalists don't cost much--to put pressure on the dealerships by writing an article for New Times about how he'd been ripped off.

"Give it a headline like 'Scandal at Liberty Buick,'" he suggested. I told him I'd look into it, and walked out to the parking lot. "Hey," I heard behind me. It was Crane, poking his head out the front door. "I've got a deal for you," he said. "I'll give you a $100 bonus if you get me on the front page."

Done.

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