Florida Lottery Winners Exclude Co-Worker

A woman sues after weekly lottery group wins $16 million without her.

Dec. 27, 2010 — -- Jeanette French wasn't at the Golf Shop the day her co-workers hit the jackpot, winning $16 million in the Florida lottery.

For nine years, French, 72, has been part of the group of employees at the Villages' Hacienda Hills Country Club that pools money each week to buy lottery tickets, each putting in a dollar.

In the past, when group members were unavailable to put their dollar in the pot, a fellow member would spot them, her lawyer, Tom Culmo, told ABC News.

Culmo said that was the case with his client.

"She had communication with one of the other employees who said he would put in a dollar for her," he said. "Employees would routinely cover for each other. She paid back the dollar Thursday morning, and she was given the ticket to check to see if they had won.

"After she realized the group won, she gave back the ticket. She wasn't worried if she handed back the ticket she wouldn't be part of the group," Culmo said.

But the group refused to split the winnings with her, claiming that French did not contribute to the pot. French has filed a lawsuit against them.

"We filed an emergency petition for an injunction to prevent the lottery from dispersing the money," Culmo said. "The court granted the injunction. However, as of late last week, the seven other winners retained a lawyer and we have worked out an agreement that will allow the seven winners to collect 1/8th of the winnings per person.

The remaining 8th will remain in a trust account until the situation is resolved or the court determines who should get the money," Culmo said.

Lottery 'Scandal' Talk of the Villages

If split seven ways, each group member would receive $1.3 million before taxes. If French is included, each member would receive $1.1 million.

The Villages, home to about 80,000 people, is known as Florida's friendliest retirement home. But, lately, the residents have been talking about the lottery scandal.

"I feel sorry for the poor lady," said Otto Strunk, a golfer and resident at the Villages. "Everybody knows about it. I feel that she was really part of the group, and they should have included her for what it was worth. They should have made sure or called her up or done something."

The Hacienda Hills Country Club has refused to comment.

John Metcalf, the laywer for the seven group members, declined to comment.

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