Divorce complicates plans to claim Lotto winnings

August 04, 1991|By Denise Buffa | Denise Buffa,Stamford Advocate

STAMFORD, Conn. -- Lee Barrett and Jean Epps apparently knew they won $2.7 million the night of the April 19 Lotto drawing.

But the couple did not cash their ticket until more than a month later because they had some "unfinished business" to take care of first.

Mr. Barrett's then-estranged wife, Merdis Barrett, says she was the unfinished business. Her husband and his girlfriend did not cash in the ticket until May 22, the day after the Barretts' marriage was annulled by a state judge. "Of course, that unfinished business was me, and of course, they finished it on the 21st, and on the 22nd they went and got the money," Ms. Barrett said.

A state judge agreed last week and ruled that the case regarding the Barretts' five-year marriage could be reopened so that the issue of assets could be readdressed. Lee Barrett, who works at a Stamford auto dealership and lives in Stamford, claimed to have only $5,000 in assets when his marriage was under court review. He did not mention the more than $50,000 he apparently expected to receive annually for 20 years, state Superior Court Judge Martin Nigro said Friday. "To me, it appeared that there was fraud committed on the court," Judge Nigro said.

When the case is reopened, Lee Barrett and Ms. Epps will have a second chance to try to persuade the court that the money was actually a gift from Ms. Epps, Judge Nigro said.

Ms. Epps claimed in court documents that the winning ticket was hers. She also claimed that she did not tell Mr. Barrett about her winnings and her decision to give him half until May 22. Lee Barrett supported her version of events in documents.

But Judge Nigro said, "The whole thing was preposterous."

In a press release from the Connecticut State Lottery the day they claimed their prize, Ms. Epps and Mr. Barrett told another story.

"We knew we won the night of the drawing, but we had some unfinished business to take care of first," state officials quoted Ms. Epps as saying in a press release. "I had written the numbers down while I watched the drawing. Then, later on, I checked our tickets. I always check them from right to left, and first, I saw three numbers. Then four numbers. Then, I got really excited. I said to Lee, 'Oh, you got five numbers!' Then I looked, and there was the sixth one!"

Lee Barrett said he disclosed all his financial interests to the court before the annulment of his marriage.

"I did not deceive the court," he said in an affidavit Monday.

Merdis Barrett is seeking half of her former husband's winnings or about one-quarter of the jackpot.

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