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Lottery Curse

Proverbs 10:2 Treasuries of wickedness profit nothing.

- One person's blessing is another person's curse.

Most of us dream of winning the lottery; of days spent leisurely on the new boat, or jetting to sun-splashed beaches in southern France. For some, that sudden wealth is a burden; a constant struggle of having to say no to family and friends and yes, take what you want, to the government.

In all the cases, the sudden, life-changing wealth changes them. Whether the change is for the better depends on the person. While some relish never having to worry about how much a car or house costs, others find the newfound wealth too much to handle.

Some have stories about dreams fulfilled, about investments that ensure wealth for generations to come. Others talk about making an effort not to change at all; of continuing to work; of driving the same car, living in the same house.

And others tell of a plague of problems and of sieges of beggars; family, friends and strangers; of lawsuits between relatives and of being dragged to court by the government; and in one case, prison on tax fraud charges.

Many, contacted for this story, just didn't want to talk about it. Here are a few who did:

Lottery Curse Stories

Rhoda Toth

For $13 million Lotto winner Rhoda Toth, who, along with her second husband, Alex, picked the winning Lotto numbers in 1990, the good luck spiraled into full blown misery.

The winnings accelerated a downward trajectory for the Hudson couple, ending in allegations of infidelity, gambling losses, estrangement, death and prison.

The money sparked enough strife within the Toth family to spark a lawsuit pitting mother against daughter.

Now 30, Tifany Diehl, the daughter, lives in Indiana and is largely estranged from Rhoda Toth, her on-again, off-again mother. Only recently has she begun speaking to her and then, only sparingly via e-mail and telephone conversations to the federal lockup that her mother calls home.

"I hurt every day inside not having a mother in my life," Diehl said.

The winnings didn't make a monster out of her mom, but it didn't help, either, Diehl said. Rhoda Toth abandoned her first husband and her two children long before she won the lottery.

"There is a piece of my heart that hates that woman," Diehl said in a recent interview. After she hit the Lotto, Toth tried to woo her children back into her life, but it didn't work.

"She was busy gambling and running with men and living the high life," Diehl said, and within two years of the windfall, the Toths were borrowing money to pay bills.

The Toths found themselves living in a trailer in Pasco County, drawing electricity from a device hooked up to a running car engine. The 25-year marriage, which had been in trouble for years, crumbled amid allegations of infidelity and that was before the Internal Revenue Service came knocking, looking for $1.1 million it says the Toths owed in back taxes.

Alex Toth died in 2008, several months before his trial on tax fraud charges and last year, a federal judge ordered Rhoda Toth to serve two years in prison.

The 52-year-old ex-multimillionaire pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns over several years. Rhoda Toth is in the Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas. She is scheduled to be released in April and she's counting the days, she said in a recent telephone interview.

She's well known among the inmates there because of her Lotto history, she said. They call her Martha Stewart.

"I'm struggling," she said. "It's very hard, depressing. I have no family left. It seems like it's been a curse on the family from day-one. When we found out we had the winning ticket, I was in shock. I told him [her husband, Alex] I wanted to give it back, I was not happy."

The money flew out of the accounts, she said. Gambling and living large took a lot of it. Giving it away took the rest, she said.

"We were trying to please everybody," Toth said. "We were buying cars and homes and taking people on vacation and doing things with them they have never gotten to do. Our friends, they didn't have anything. We were paying their bills and buying them clothes. We didn't want them running around like we were running around before."

She has some advice to lottery winners.

"I would go get financial counseling," she said. "I'd make sure I'd get a proper attorney and two accountants who knew what they were doing, who specialized in this kind of thing. I would go get some type of counseling myself to make sure I was able to control and handle all this."

That winning ticket, she said, ruined her life.

"I have a trailer with no power," she said. "I have no husband. He gave up. He didn't want to live anymore. He hated life in general. He hated the way the money took us down."

When she gets out, she plans to move back to Florida where a widow's pension and a disability check amounting to nearly $1,100 a month will have to do. Out of that, she has to pay $100 a month to the IRS, which has placed a lien on her home and all her property, she said.

"It's like a curse," she said. "I will never get out from underneath the IRS for as long as I live. And when I die it will still be there."

Larry J. Gispert

Larry J. Gispert, director of Hillsborough County's Emergency Operations Center, claimed the Jan. 12, 2007, $1.8 million Mega Money jackpot. Gispert chose the one-time lump sum payment of $1.3 million.

"I don't think he wants to talk," said a woman who answered the telephone at Gispert's South Tampa home. He himself wished to keep news of his windfall on the down-low, even more than two years after his ship came in.

Gispert continues to direct operations at the EOC, taking center stage as spokesman during disasters, such as hurricanes. A county employee for nearly 30 years, Gispert has been in charge of the EOC for the past 16 years. He did not wish to be interviewed for this story.

Noreene and James Gordon

Noreene and James Gordon, a north Tampa homemaker and a retired textile worker, claimed the February 2000 Florida Lotto jackpot of $52.4 million. They chose a one-time lump sum payment of $24 million. Their first big planned purchase: a cell phone for James.

Things have changed since then.

"It's a nightmare," she said recently, with friends and strangers knocking and calling for a chunk of her prize.

"They don't want a piece," she said. "They want it all."

Her husband died in 2006, and she has suffered three strokes since the windfall.

"People come out of the walls to take advantage of you every day of your life," she said before ending the short telephone interview.

Betty Ann and David Messick

In December 1998, four years after winning a $9.5 million lottery, Betty Ann Messick and her husband, David, climbed back into the work force and opened the Apple Tree restaurant in Plant City.

Their money train arrived in the form of a Lotto ticket in April 1994. At the time, David Messick worked in the Plant City Parks and Cemetery department. It didn't take long for him to decide to retire. But four years later, the Messicks un-retired.

The restaurant remained open until just recently when the shopping center where it was located remodeled and reconfigured the space. The Apple Tree never returned.

Bill Griffiths

Bill Griffiths of San Antonio won $4.1 million on June 13, 1998, a third of the total Lotto jackpot. He was 27 at the time.

"After I double-checked my numbers on Sunday," he said at the time, "I walked into my shop on Monday at Zephyrhills Bottled Water Co. and told my boss I quit."

With $208,666 coming his way in annual installments over 20 years, he made his hobby his full time labor of love: drag racing. Griffiths planned to pursue the sport full time and not have to worry about expenses.

The 1989 Pasco High School graduate who at the time was single and lived with his parents, vowed to put some of his winnings into a home of his own. He could not be reached for comment.

By KEITH MORELLI | The Tampa Tribune Oct 1, 2009.

Winning Lotto Numbers