Kadner: When office lottery pools end up in the courts
Phil Kadner email@example.com | (708) 633-6787 May 16, 2012 10:22PM
Pita Pan in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Wednesday, May 16, 2012. Two employees are suing 12 others for Mega Millions winnings. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 29, 2012 9:14AM
It’s the nightmare of anyone who has been asked to participate in an office lottery pool.
Your co-workers buy a ticket that wins millions and you’re left out.
Well, the nightmare is reality for two men who work at the Pita Pan bakery in Chicago Heights.
You may vaguely recall that this month, after all the hype about the record $656 million jackpot in March, there was another Mega Millions winning ticket sold at a gas station in Glenwood.
It turns out that ticket was purchased by a group of 12 employees at Pita Pan, which is on Joe Orr Road in Chicago Heights.
But two employees, Jose L. Franco and Marco Medina, both Chicago residents, have filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court, claiming they were told they would not get a share of the $118 million prize although they sort of participated in the pool.
The lawsuit contends that prior to the May 4 winning ticket purchase, Franco and Medina participated in another pool at work that won $9 on May 1. It says that $9 was not paid out to the contributing members of the pool and was rolled over to purchase more tickets for the May 4 drawing.
Mario Juarez, a co-worker of the plaintiffs, collected contributions each Thursday for the Friday drawing in the Mega Millions game, but that week Juarez collected the contributions on a Wednesday, according to the suit.
Apparently, Franco and Medina were not approached and did not contribute fresh money to the lottery pool. Nevertheless, they contend that they participated through their portion of the $9 that was rolled over from the previous Mega Millions drawing.
After the group won the May 4 jackpot, Juarez notified the two men that the 12 other workers had no intention of sharing the proceeds, the suit says.
The lawyer for Franco and Medina said the 12 have quit their jobs while Franco and Medina keep on working. The two are now asking a judge to stop payment of the May 4 jackpot until the “rights of all parties have been determined.”
The easy solution, suggested by some of my colleagues here, is for the 12 winners to share their proceeds with Franco and Medina.
Of course, they’re assuming that the claim is justified. And their reasoning is that when you have millions of dollars fall down on you from the sky, you shouldn’t get too greedy.
I can’t speak for the 12 winners, but when money is involved, people get strange. I’ve seen entire families torn apart by an inheritance that amounts to less than $1,000.
“It’s a matter of principle,” they always say, and you can’t talk sense into such people.
In this case, of course, there may well be another side to the story.
Maybe that $9 rollover went to purchase some other tickets. Maybe the winning ticket was purchased with “fresh” money.
I’ve often warned the folks who collect lottery money here to make copies of the tickets they purchase and hand them out to all participants before the drawing.
“Do you think I would cheat you?” several people have asked me over the years.
I try to stress that they should make copies of the tickets to protect themselves.
“If you purchase a ticket on your own and win,” I say, “no one will ever believe that you bought it with your own money. People will assume it was part of the lottery pool dough, and you won’t have any defense.”
The lottery pool organizers respond the same way. “People here trust me. They know I wouldn’t do something like that. It could never happen.”
Well, stuff like that does happen. And when millions of dollars are involved, I don’t know why anyone would be surprised when someone files a lawsuit.
My guess is that all the office workers in the country will be following this case closely if it continues to make its way through the court system.
Are Franco and Medina entitled to a full share of the winnings? A prorated share? What really happened to that $9?
If I were among the 12 winners, I would argue to settle out of court and give the two men a fair share.
I wouldn’t want to spend any of my money on lawyers. I would want to get my share of the winnings as soon as possible and sail off into the sunset.
But emotions tend to run high in such situations. I can see some of the 12 digging their feet in and saying, “It’s just not right.”
And it may not be. But think of it as charity. You’re now rich, and this is your first donation to the needy.
The recipients just happen to be two former co-workers.