December 15, 2017

Another Lottery Story with a Bankruptcy Angle

cash windfall and bankruptcyI ran across an interesting lottery story with an interesting bankruptcy twist.  This story took place in Syracuse, New York where a down and out maintenance worker named Robert Miles bought a scratch off lottery ticket in a quick mart in 2006.

Addicted to drugs at the time, Mr. Miles took his ticket to the proprietors of the Green Ale Market to find out if he had won.  The owners of the Market responded that yes, he had won $5,000.  In reality, the winning ticket was worth $5 million.  The store owners gave him $4,000, keeping $1,000 of the “winnings” for themselves as a fee(!).  The store owners then waited six years to submit the winning $5 million ticket.

Officials at the state lottery office launched an investigation because they were suspicious that the purported winner had waited six years to come forward and that the winner owned the store where the ticket was sold.

When he read about the store owners’ stroke of luck, Mr. Miles – now sober – came forward to say he had been ripped off.  The store owners ended up in jail and Mr. Miles was awarded his deserved $5 million.

The news story also reports that in 2008, Mr. Miles filed bankruptcy, “knowing that he should have been a millionaire five times over.”

This got me thinking about the bankruptcy implications of this story.

First, I am assuming that when Mr. Miles has or will forthwith notify his bankruptcy attorney and Chapter 7 trustee about this newly discovered asset.  The trustee will file a motion to reopen the Chapter 7 case and will ask Mr. Miles to write the trustee a check sufficient to repay all creditors whose claims were discharged in his bankruptcy.

Second, it would be interesting to know if Mr. Miles included the disputed lottery win as an asset on Schedule B of his bankruptcy case.  The story is silent about Mr. Miles’ actions between 2006 and 2012 but it appears that Mr. Miles figured out prior to filing bankruptcy that he had been ripped off.

If he did not include this disputed asset on Schedule B, it is possible that his discharge will be revoked, or, less likely that he could be investigated for bankruptcy fraud 1  My guess is that the disputed lottery winnings were very speculative in 2008 and that the United States trustee will not try to make trouble for this very lucky winner, but that possibility certainly exists.

We can draw several lessons from Mr. Miles’ unusual tale.  First, make sure to include in your bankruptcy petition every asset you own, even those that are in dispute and unlikely to pan out.  Second, if you did not include a speculative asset in your initial filing, reveal that asset as soon as you learn that it may be collectible 2.

I am happy that justice prevailed for Mr. Miles and I hope that he puts his trust in honest advisers this time.

  1. The penalties for failing to include an asset can be severe.  For example, a debtor’s failure to list a lawsuit where he is the plaintiff may preclude that debtor from pursuing damages post bankruptcy.
  2. This would involve filing a motion to reopen your case for the purpose of amending Schedule B to add an asset.
About Jonathan

Jonathan Ginsberg represents honest, hardworking men and women in the Atlanta area who need personal bankruptcy protection. In practice for over 25 years, Jonathan teaches bankruptcy law and practice at legal continuing education seminars and he is a founding member of the Bankruptcy Law Network. Jonathan lives with his wife and children in Atlanta.

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