COEUR d'ALENE, Idaho (CN) - An Idaho man thought he would split a $180 Lottery win with his girlfriend - but it was just the beginning of his problems, he claims in court.
Jonathon Aune says he and his girlfriend were living in Northern Idaho when one of two tickets they bought "with their communal funds" hit the Jan. 4, 2011 $380 million "Mega Millions" jackpot, the second-largest in history at the time. They split the jackpot with another winner from Washington state, bringing Aune and his soon-to-be ex a $180 million payday.
As is always the case with Lottery winners, Aune and his girlfriend's names made the newspapers and TV. Aune does not mention her name in the Oct. 6 lawsuit in Kootenai County Court, nor is she a party to the complaint. Contemporary news reports identified her as Holly Lahti, and called her Aune's "estranged wife."
The NBC station KTVB reported in November 2013 that after the win, Lahti "seemed to disappear off the face of the earth." Lahti, now 33, "moved away from her estranged husband almost immediately," according to KTVB. She told the station she moved to an undisclosed town in California to escape the media attention, the barrage of "offers" from businesses, inmates and wannabe husbands, but primarily to give her two young daughters a chance to live a normal life.
Aune, apparently, was not so fortunate. He says his girlfriend "collected the funds and later claimed the winnings as her own." Aune sued her and eventually was awarded $11 million in mediation, he says in the complaint. It was the string of advisers and attorneys he met along the way that are the defendants in his lawsuit.
Aune claims lead defendant Robert Newell contacted him and immediately began pitching his financial management services.
"Newell continuously lobbied plaintiff to hire Newell to manage the lottery proceeds," according to the 28-page complaint. "Newell provided plaintiff with advice, support, money and work, and acted as a 'father figure' in his relationship with plaintiff."
But Aune claims Newell had a shady past.
"Defendant Newell had been censured by the National Association of Securities Dealers for his role in the Empire Securities, Inc. of Washington trading scandal," the complaint states. "Essentially, defendant Newell was found guilty of recommending improper investments to clients through his employment with Empire. Defendant was barred from holding a license with NASDAQ as a result of the censure in 1999."
With his ex-girlfriend gone with the money, Aune claims, Newell ramped up his efforts to get his hands on a chunk of the money, and enlisted the help of a Texas attorney, defendant Deborah Deitsch-Perez, who had deposed Newell as a defendant in a previous lawsuit.
"In August or September 2011, while on a boating trip with Newell on Hayden Lake, Idaho, plaintiff was taken to a home where defendant Perez was sitting on an outside deck," Aune says in the complaint. "Newell introduced plaintiff to Perez. Plaintiff did not have any advance notice of this meeting."
Aune says Perez offered her services on a contingent fee basis, and he signed contracts with her and Newell. Perez then hired another law firm to help her sue for a share of the winnings in Los Angeles Superior Court in November 2011, according to the complaint.
After the $11 million settlement in March 2013, Aune says, Perez, Newell and others walked away with a big part of the money.
"The gross sum of $11 million was provided to defendant Perez and her firm [co-defendant] Lackey Hershman from the settlement of plaintiff's lawsuit," the complaint states. "From the $11 million, defendant Perez and her firm paid themselves $2,750,000 in fees and $595,149.40 in 'expenses' from plaintiff's proceeds."
Perez paid Newell $613,800, and $302,500 went to defendant Tyler Wilson, a first-year attorney working for Newell, Aune says in the complaint.
He claims Perez "incurred thousands of dollars of improper expenses, including luxury travel, meals and accommodations for all the lawyers involved," and that her payouts to Newell and Wilson constitute a "fee splitting arrangement" in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys.
Aune received $6,723,550.60 from Perez, but says Newell wasn't finished with him yet. He claims he was talked into "investing" $1.5 million in Newell's various business entities, and another $1 million in Trigg Financial, owned by Newell's friend and co-defendant Ralph Trigg.
Aune gave Newell another $250,000 as a "loan," according to the complaint.
Aune's attorney John Whelan, of Coeur d' Alene, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Newell did not return a phone call.
Apparently, Aune and Newell had good relations for a while.
A May 2013 article in the Coeur d' Alene Press described them as new owners of the restored "Lady Lola," which once ferried passengers from the original 205-foot Lady Lola, while it was in harbor in places like Gibraltar and Galapagos.
"The tender's owners, Rob Newell of Black Hawk Capital Managers and Jon Aune of Whitehawk LLC, were thrilled with their purchase of the 28-foot, torpedo-style craft," the article states.
A local boat shop told the newspaper it cost $100,000 to refurbish the boat, which was to be decked in front of Newell's office to take clients around Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Here are the defendants: Robert L. Newell; Martha Newell; Black Hawk Capital Managers LLC; Trustee Opportunity Partners LP; Black Hawk Funding, Inc.; Nationwide Valuation Services, LLC; Ty B. Wilson; Wilson Law Group PLLC; Ralph M. Trigg; Jane Doe Trigg; Trigg Financial, Inc.; Chris C. Lake; Lackey Hershman LLP; Deborah Deitsch-Perez; John Doe Perez; and MartinelliMick PLLC.
Aune seeks at least $4 million for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, professional malpractice, negligence, consumer law violations and securities fraud.
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