The owner of the Center Lovell Inn, who is giving the property away to the winner of an essay contest, received 7,255 entries, which at $125 each yielded her $906,875, according to a Maine State Police investigation.
Janice Sage, who won the inn in an essay contest in 1993, announced at the beginning of the year that she would be holding a similar contest. She had hoped to receive 7,500 entries, with the proceeds paying for her retirement. A 200-word essay would determine who would win ownership of the restaurant and inn, which has seven guest rooms and views of the White Mountains and Kezar Lake.
Prince Adams, who runs a restaurant in the U.S. Virgin Islands, submitted the winning essay. But almost immediately, unsuccessful entrants complained that the contest hadn’t been run properly. They disputed that the winning essay was the best of those submitted and speculated that Sage and Adams may have known each other prior to the contest.
The complaints prompted a week-long state police investigation that concluded this week. The Portland Press Herald filed a Freedom of Access request for a copy of the investigation.
Assistant Attorney General Christopher Parr said the complete investigation, contained in a binder about an inch thick, was considered investigative and intelligence information and that releasing it could constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy. Therefore it is not considered a public record, he said. Parr did, however, provide a copy of the investigation narrative in which the names of the people involved, including the essay judges, had been redacted.
The investigation, based on interviews with several of the people involved, describes a meticulous competition process that included Sage reading every essay.
“She has the calloused elbows to prove it,” said the investigation narrative, prepared by Barry Hathaway, an inspector with the State Police Special Investigations Unit.
Sage did not open any of the entry envelopes when they arrived, the narrative said. Initially, she had another person open the envelopes, assign each essay a number, enter the author’s name and contact information in a register and send them a receipt. As the contest progressed and more entries arrived, she brought in more help and eventually had five people processing the mail.
The only rule Sage changed over the course of the contest was to extend it for an additional 30 days, which was permissible under the rules.
She chose the top 20 essays, and then selected two judges to pick the first, second and third-place entries. The judges’ names were redacted but they were identified as a man and a woman. They wrote the winning numbers on a slip of paper and gave it to Sage.
At first, she couldn’t find the corresponding name in the registration materials so she had to seek help from the girl who had filed it, the investigation said.
Winner Prince Adams told police that someone else, possibly Adams’ wife, reads the New York Times daily and saw a story about the contest. Adams eventually entered his essay and learned on June 6 that he had won. He told police he had never met or spoken with Sage before then.
Not everyone is satisfied the contest was handled fairly.
Kass Stone, an American living in London, said in an email that Sage did make contact at some point to clear up some confusion with their entry form. Stone said that at the time, it wasn’t clear that contact between Sage and entrants was prohibited, and that Sage wasn’t supposed to know the identities of essay writers.
But the investigation concluded that the contest was conducted legally and that Sage did nothing wrong. The contest was a game of skill and therefore not regulated by state law covering games of chance and it did not violate any consumer protection laws, according to the police narrative. It also wasn’t a game in which the operator controls the outcome.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:
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