SEASIDE, Ore. -- A Seaside man has confessed to creating a $99 Essay Beach House Contest to pay bills and buy drugs and he also told contestants that money generated by the contest would be donated to breast cancer research.
Theodore Zennie was arrested on Thursday, for allegedly dealing heroin.
Clatsop County Interagency Narcotics undercover agents acting on a tip said they bought drugs from the 55-year old. Later, police served a search warrant at the home on South Columbia Street where they said they found two ounces of heroin, scales, packaging material, and cash.
After Zennie was arrested, police said he confessed to using the $99 Essay Beach House contest to raise money to buy drugs.
For $99, entrants were asked to write an essay of six lines or less explaining why you wanted or needed the cottage. The winning essay would win the house which was advertised as "free and clear" property. In the end, no one won the house.
The home was a quiet Seaside bungalow on South Columbia Street. The contest was a carefully crafted on-line creation. Legitimized through local television coverage, the story spread to newspapers and television stations nationwide.
"So $99 dollars and a pen could get you a house in Oregon," reported one television anchor in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Everyone wanted a piece of the Oregon coast for just $99. Henry Barber was one them.
"Every news channel and newspaper throughout the country was running this thing, so hey it's gotta be real," said Barber.
Barber wanted to win the home to use as a retreat for cancer patients like himself. He paid his $99 and waited for the contest's 2009 deadline.
"November 14th came along and I was wondering and I started to get suspicious," explained Barber.
Barber contacted the television station that first reported the contest to discuss his concerns.
He was told, "Sorry if you didn't end up being the winning entry."
Little did Barber or the television station know, just five days after that first report the Oregon Attorney General began investigating. In a letter dated July 21, 2009, the Attorney General's Office wrote
"What you are doing is an illegal lottery. The law requires that if you advertise a contest, you must give away the prize."
No one followed up with the contest's results until last week when the organizer, Theodore Zennie was arrested and charged with heroin and cocaine possession.
"He was selling it and distributing it allegedly as we have to say," explained Clatsop County Sheriff Tom Bergin.
Zennie was directed by the Attorney General to refund the entry money, but Henry Barber hasn't seen a cent. He wonders how many people like himself believed the hype, saw the reports, and chased a $99 mirage.
As for Zennie, he was booked into the Clatsop County Jail on $115,000 bail.