With a record Powerball jackpot approaching, a timely reminder that greed doesn’t pay

While players rush to purchase tickets for an upcoming Powerball jackpot, it’s a good time to think back to the odd case of Denise Rossi, where one woman’s greed caused her to forfeit her winnings entirely.

Rossi’s prize – $1.3 million – may be far lower than the projected jackpot of $1 billion in this week’s Powerball draw, but it is still a life changing amount. When her winning numbers were drawn in the California Lottery a few days after Christmas in 1996, Rossi was thrilled – but her thoughts soon turned from joy to greed.

Rossi had been married for 25 years to her husband Thomas, and by all accounts the couple shared a close relationship – according to an article published by the LA Times in 1999, the couple even shared the same electric toothbrush. There was no indication that Thomas had been anything but a loyal and caring partner, which makes his wife’s decision to divorce him 11 days after her lottery win even more cruel.

For Thomas, his wife’s request for a divorce came as a complete shock. Indeed, in the two years that follow, he still struggled to make sense of why a seemingly happy marriage had failed overnight. But that would change in 1998 when an item of mail intended for his ex-wife was delivered to the wrong address.

Thomas was shocked to find the letter addressed to his wife was from a company that contacted lottery winners to offer financial advice. This was the first he’d ever heard of his wife winning a large sum of money – she’d kept it a complete secret during the divorce proceedings to ensure she would not have to share it with him.

His next course of action was to contact the California State Lottery Commission to find out just how much his ex-wife had won. When they confirmed that she’d won over $1 million, Thomas was furious. Under Californian law, he was entitled to half of that amount. Within days he filed suit against his former wife.

The legal team representing Mrs Rossi tried to argue that the winning ticket had been a gift from a co-worker, but the judge refused to accept this defence. At the end of the trial, the judge awarded Mr Rossi with the entire amount his former wife had won – $1.3 million. Mrs Rossi was awarded nothing.

Understandably, Mrs Rossi immediately filed an appeal. That case dragged on for several years before it was resolved in 2001, with a judge ruling once again that Mr Rossi was entitled to the full amount.

Damning evidence that Mrs Rossi had “consulted with the state lottery commission on how she could keep her husband from getting his hands on the prize” was cited as a reason for the appeal court finding in favor of her former husband.

Mrs Rossi tried to introduce new claims during the appeal, claiming that her former partner had abused her emotionally and physically, but the court found there was no evidence of this whatsoever. The only minor win for Mrs Rossi was that the judge didn’t make her pay Mr Rossi’s legal fees, although the prosecution did make a compelling argument that she should.

In short, the case of Denise Rossi serves as a reminder for those who will win big in the coming Powerball draw – and all future lottery prizes – that greed never pays. The winners should be grateful for their windfalls, and not conceal their good fortune from their partners – unless they want to risk the karma that Mrs Rossi was so justifiably dealt.