BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) – An elderly woman claims in court that her son swiped her winning $51 million lottery ticket, bought 10 cars and four houses with it, and put millions into accounts where she can’t touch it.
Etta May Urquhart, 76, sued her son, Ronnie Lee Orender, in Kern Superior Court. Her husband, Bob Urquhart, who is Orender’s stepfather, is co-plaintiff. They also sued Bancorp Bank and three investment companies where they believe Orender parked the money.
Urquhart says in her complaint that she has been an avid buyer of lotto tickets for almost 20 years. She started playing Mega Millions and Super Lotto Plus when California began offering them around 2005.
“Etta May’s habit and routine is to purchase tickets on Tuesday and Friday, typically in the same denomination – two dollars for Mega Millions and five dollars for Super Lotto Plus,” the complaint states.
She bought almost all her tickets at the Stuarts Oak Street Mobil gas station in Bakersfield, with money from her retirement income, according to the complaint.
“Ronnie Orender was not supportive of my weekly lottery ticket purchases. He discouraged me from playing and told me it was a waste of my money,” Etta May wrote in a declarationshe submitted along with the lawsuit.
In May 2011, Etta May says, she checked the newspaper the morning after buying a ticket for the $51 million Mega Millions drawing – and saw she had won.
“Etta May asked Orender to compare her Mega Millions ticket to the numbers in the newspaper. Orender compared the numbers and determined it was a winner,” the complaint states.
Etta May says she, her husband and Orender immediately drove to the gas station where Etta May bought the ticket to claim her winnings. Lottery officials were there when they arrived, and said that the winning ticket needed to be signed.
But Etta May says she was too overwhelmed to sign it herself.
“I was very emotional the entire time I was at Stuarts Oak Street Mobil. My body was shaking uncontrollably, and I could barely talk,” Etta May wrote in her declaration.
“Lottery officials requested the winning ticket be signed, but I could not even hold a pen. I was told that it did not matter who signed the ticket. My son Ronnie Orender signed the ticket on my behalf,” the declaration states.
Orender signed his own name on the ticket, not hers, according to the complaint.
After fighting through a field of reporters trying to take pictures of her, Etta May says, she was overwhelmed with her instant fame.
“Realizing the magnitude of the situation, and the likely attention and pressures from family, both immediate and distant, friends, and even strangers, Orender suggested that Etta May tell others that she bought the ticket for Orender,” the complaint states. “Orender told Etta May that he would handle the money for the benefit of Etta May and in accordance with Etta May’s requests. Believing this would alleviate the attention and pressures, and trusting Orender’s judgment and advice, Etta May agreed to tell others that she purchased the winning ticket for Orender.
“On Thursday, May 5, 2011, Lottery officials introduced Orender as the Mega Millions lottery winner of $51 million. The lump sum payment was $32,300,000.
“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege that Orender directed the entire winnings to accounts that Orender controlled and to which the plaintiffs did not have access.”
Etta May says her son “invested or deposited the vast majority of the winning through [defendants] Moneywise, SEI Investment Management, and SEIC [SEI Investment Co.]. Plaintiffs do not have access or control of any of these assets. Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege that Orender receives monthly income from these investments.”
She claims he also deposited “a substantial amount of cash” with defendant Bancorp Bank, and/or SEI and SEIC.
She says he bought four houses in Bakersfield, “at least ten vehicles, and made cash gifts of several hundreds of thousands of dollars.” And she says he “continues to make cash gifts.”
The disappointed mother says in her declaration: “Of the total lottery winnings received, I have received approximately $125,000 in cash, a Lincoln SUV and I have been provided a house to live in, but I am not the owner of the house.”
She says she had several arguments with Orender about how he was handling the money, and when she finally told him she wanted control of her money, he refused. The Urquharts also sued John Does 1-150, claiming that some of them persuaded Etta May that the money would be hers even if she allowed Orender to sign the ticket for her.
“The plaintiffs actively and justifiably relied on the false representations of Does 1 through 10 and had Does 1 through 10 not made the false representations, the plaintiffs would not have entered into an agreement that allowed Orender to have control of the lottery winnings,” the complaint states.
The Urquharts seek $32 million in damages for fraud, conspiracy, conversion, and financial elder abuse. And they seek punitive damages “in an amount to deter defendants from engaging in similar future conduct.”
The case, which was filed April 23, was sealed until late Wednesday, May 2.
“It was sealed because the court granted the ex parte motions to freeze the assets until all the proofs of service could be served,” the Urquharts’ attorney Barry Goldner told Courthouse News in an interview. Goldner is a partner with Klein, DeNatale, Goldner, Cooper, Rosenlieb, & Kimball.
“Now that all the defendants have been served, there will be a writ of attachment hearing sometime later this month to determine if the assets will remain frozen,” he added.
Goldner said the elderly mom should not have a problem proving that the winning lottery ticket was hers.
“The declaration Etta May submitted is very compelling,” he said.