The Curse of Winning a Lottery

Here is a news story that illustrates the sheer greed of some people taking advantage of each other and the legal system.

Winning lottery ticket for Alabama Waffle House waitress led to lawsuit, kidnapping

Edward Seward walked into a Grand Bay Waffle House nearly 20 years ago, sat down and ate breakfast. That was the day he changed the life of the waitress serving him.

As Seward was paying up, he gave a lottery ticket as a tip, something he often did as one of the regulars. Tonda Dickerson, a then divorced woman in her late 20s, was the recipient on that Sunday, March 7, 1999. The next draw wasn’t until the following Saturday.

As far as I’m concerned, the moment you give up a lottery ticket to another person, you have absolutely no further claim to it or any winnings from it. Obviously, this guy assumed the lottery ticket would either win the waitress nothing or only a small amount of money. However…..

A week later, Dickerson’s life was changed forever. For better and for worse.

Dickerson won $10 million in the Florida Lottery. Court documents filed in Mobile County show that she elected to take $375,000 over 30 years rather than the lump sum, a move generally regarded as wise among financial planners and other economics experts. Dickerson would never have to work again. Or so she thought.

I currently work in a warehouse owned by Sam’s Club. Would I quit that job and just sit around the house if I won millions of dollars in a lottery. Probably not, because then I would be extremely bored after a few months. Work is a good thing to do, and not just to make money for yourself to pay necessary expenses.

She quickly found herself embroiled in multiple legal battles with friends, colleagues, the Internal Revenue Service, and even Seward — the man that gave her the ticket as a tip.

As a person in South Carolina eagerly awaits their significant chunk of the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot, before local, state and federal taxes are subtracted, a simple Google of past lottery winners will present you with dozens of examples of how such a life changing win can quickly turn your life upside down.

The man from Georgia that invested his $3 million winnings in a meth ring. Urooj Khan was poisoned a day after winning in $1 million in July 2012. Michigan winner Amanda Clayton was found dead from a drug overdose less than a year after winning $735,000. In March 2012, a New Jersey jury unanimously decided that Americo Lopes had cheated his coworkers out of their share of a $38.5 Mega Millions jackpot lottery pool. Lopes claimed he had won the jackpot on a personal ticket but the panel rejected that theory. The jackpot was ultimately distributed among the five men who were in the lottery pool with Lopes.

Some people can’t handle sudden wealth, just like some people can’t handle sudden fame, like what being an actor in a massive hit movie or a rock or pop star can bring. Even worse is the tendency of the mass media to focus on the tragedies and failures associated with such people. It’s all about the average person being envious of celebrities and eagarly buying and reading stories of their problems. Pathetic, really.

And then of course there’s the story of a Larry Payne, the East Alabama man who forgot about a lottery ticket in his truck. With just a few weeks before the ticket was due to expire, Payne lent the truck to his nephew. The nephew found the ticket and told his uncle. They thought it was only worth $600. Excited by the find, Payne’s nephew told his boss. It later transpired the ticket was worth $1 million. The boss claimed that Payne’s nephew had stolen the ticket off her desk. The case went to court and Payne was awarded the winnings. However, the case was appealed by the loser in the case. It has yet to be decided on.

The nephew did the right thing by giving the ticket back to his uncle, but never should have brought it up with anyone else. And when you buy any lottery ticket, KEEP THE RECEIPT to protect yourself.

While Dickerson’s story doesn’t involve the same level of tragedy as many other lottery winners, it has plenty of the same drama. Efforts by to reach Dickerson were not immediately successful.

The biggest problem she faced in claiming her money was her fellow colleagues. In court filings from the time, those colleagues claimed that any winnings from lottery tickets given by customers as tips would be shared equally. But since it was a tip, Dickerson believed it belonged to her.

Dickerson is right. A tip that goes to a specific waitress goes ONLY to her and not anyone else. Claiming someone’s else’s tip is attempted STEALING!

During a Mobile Circuit Court case in April 1999, a jury took 45 minutes to decide against Dickerson, who denied that she had agreed to split any winnings. Her lawyer described the co-workers as “rats coming out of the woodwork.”

The four co-workers had also received lottery tickets as tips and testified that they and Dickerson had a plan to share the winnings. A couple who regularly dined at the Waffle House in Grand Bay testified that Dickerson told them of the deal. Dickerson, who had turned down a settlement offer that would have given her $3 million of the Florida jackpot, left court without comment, according to past Press-Register reporting.

Was there a recording of the deal between Dickerson and the others to split the winnings from her ticket? Any written agreement signed by all involved? If not, why did the jury find against Dickerson? This is why I don’t trust juries in many court cases. They tend to be ignorant of the law and too easily swayed by their personal biases. They must have thought, “This hick waitress doesn’t deserve to be so rich!” That classist bullshit needs to be shot down forever!

Also, why would Dickerson have told any customers of such a deal with her co-workers? That’s none of the customers’ business!

Dickerson appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which reversed the Circuit Court on Feb. 18, 2000, ruling that any agreement with the Waffle House waitresses was unenforceable under Alabama law because it ”was founded on gambling consideration.” And of course, that type of gambling is illegal here.

In February 2002, nearly three years after the ticket was claimed, a Mobile County Circuit Judge threw out a suit brought against Dickerson by Seward, who claimed there also was an agreement to buy him a new truck if the ticket was a winner.

Again, if there was no recorded or written agreement, we can safely assume it didn’t happen. That’s the flip side of the “innocent until proven guilty” principle. Positive evidence, not merely biased testimony, is what counts.

The same week that Seward was denied by a judge, Dickerson’s ex-husband, whom she divorced back in 1997, two years before the lottery win, was shot after trying to kidnap her, the Press-Register reported at the time.

Stacy Martin, now in his late 40s, lunged at Dickerson while she was driving in her truck in Jackson County, Mississippi. “All the time they were driving, he told her that he was going to kill her,” said the Sheriff at the time. “They drove on Highway 90 into Jackson County, where he took her to the boat launch at Bayou Heron, which is an isolated area.”

During the trip to the boat launch, he said, Dickerson’s cellphone rang, but Martin refused to let her answer it, threatening to kill her if she did. When the pair arrived at the boat launch, Dickerson pleaded with Martin to let her go, according to reports from the time. During her pleadings, her phone rang a second time. “She asked him to let her answer it, saying that if she didn’t answer it, they would start looking for her,” said the Sheriff.

When Martin agreed to let her answer it, Dickerson reached in her purse and pulled out a .22-caliber handgun, and Martin lunged toward her, Byrd said. She shot him, hitting him in the right side of the chest.

After the shooting, Martin attacked Dickerson and took the gun away from her, telling her he was going to kill her and himself, Byrd said. Dickerson managed to convince Martin to seek treatment for his wound, and they left the boat launch for the hospital. Police were called once the pair made it to the hospital.

It doesn’t appear that Martin was charged or convicted, according to Mississippi state criminal records. But he may have appeared in Municipal Court. Those records were not immediately available.

In her place, I would have simply killed him outright and it should have been considered a justifiable homicide.

But it didn’t end there. For more than a decade, the IRS argued with Dickerson about exactly how much she was due them. In March 2012, Attorneys with the Birmingham firm of Sirote & Permutt successfully argued before U.S. Tax Court that the IRS was wrong to demand about $1 million in gift tax – on top of income taxes – after Dickerson gave most of her winnings away to her family through a business they set up.

The court ruled that Dickerson’s winning Florida lottery ticket was worth only a fraction of its face value at the time it was taxable because of competing claims for the money filed by her fellow Waffle House waitresses.

How about the tax code be reformed so that any winnings from a lottery, or a game show, or anything else, NOT be considered taxable income?

Little is known about Dickerson today. She currently works as a poker dealer at the Golden Nugget casino in Biloxi, according to her various social media profiles.

At least that is a step up from being a waitress!


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