Denise Rossi: The Greedy Lottery Winner Who Lost It All
Some people will go to any lengths to get their hands on some money, and when big lottery jackpots are at stake, Unfortunately, the consequences can sometimes be dire. In the case of lottery winner Denise Rossi, an extreme attempt at safeguarding her fortune backfired drastically.
WHO IS DENISE ROSSI?
Denise Rossi is a lottery winner who is in the unique position of having had her lottery fortune taken away. In December 1996, Rossi was living in the Westside of Los Angeles with her husband of 25 years. Thomas Rossi describes the couple as being a couple of homebodies who shared everything—even an electric toothbrush. Denise was working at a now-closed clothing design firm in early 1997 when she suddenly filed for divorce. Her husband, who thought they had been happy, was stunned. He didn’t learn the real motivation behind the separation until a couple of years later—she had actually won the lottery and didn’t want him getting any of the money!
Denise Rossi filed for divorce in January 1997. Despite what Thomas claimed about the couple’s happily wedded state, Denise stated that she had been unhappy for many years. The fact that Denise filed for divorce only eleven days after she learned she had won the jackpot from the California SuperLotto lottery (now called the California SuperLotto Plus) may support these claims. In court filings, Denise says that Thomas was always broke and out of work and that she was constantly working, putting a strain on the relationship.
After the divorce, Thomas declared bankruptcy after his portrait shop in West Hollywood closed. He ended up working part-time at a chain photoshop. Thomas’s life changed drastically once more when he received a piece of mail address to his ex-wife in 1999, two years after the divorce. The letter was from a company that specialized in providing lump sums to lucky lottery winners. Because Denise never disclosed that she had won a large amount of lottery throughout the divorce proceedings, Thomas was able to obtain a court injunction shortly after learning the truth.
HOW MUCH MONEY DID DENISE ROSSI WIN?
While working at the clothing design firm, Denise had pitched in on a lottery ticket with five co-workers. The ticket turned out to be a winner, and the six employees split a jackpot prize of $6.6 million. Denise’s share of the jackpot worked out to $1,336,000, which she chose to have doled out in annual instalments of $66,800 over 20 years—not a bad income by any means. Denise went so far to ensure that Thomas never found out about the money that she arranged to have her cheques sent to her mother’s home in Northern California. Thomas was reported as saying that Denise’s actions were particularly hurtful in light of his own financial troubles in the years following the divorce.
Though Denise Rossi tried very hard to keep her money to herself, her plan ultimately failed. Under state law, Denise had an obligation to disclose the winnings, as her husband would have been legally entitled to half of the money per California’s community property laws. In November 1999, a family court judge found that Denise’s failure to include her winnings in the divorce proceedings qualified as a violation of state asset disclose laws. As a result, the judge awarded all of Denise’s lottery winnings to her ex-husband—including what she had already spent, meaning she'd owe him that as well.
Denise tried to claim that she was merely ignorant of state laws and didn’t realize she needed to disclose the news of her win. However, the judge in the case found that Denise’s deposition revealed something else. In it, Denise confessed that she kept her lottery win a secret because she didn’t want Thomas to get any of it.
Thomas’s lawyers celebrated the case as being a lesson in karma, stating that it was a cautionary tale for anyone who might consider hiding their assets during a divorce. Denise’s attorney was also regretful about the lotto winner’s decisions to hide her winnings. He said he would have been able to argue that the money was Denise’s separate property, or at least could have argued for a more equitable arrangement. Instead, Denise lost all of the money she worked so hard to protect, as the judge ordered her to pay—quite literally—for the poor decision she made.
There are many unfortunate stories about people who lost lottery tickets or how the lives of lottery winners are far from the glamorous affairs we generally like to believe they are. However, there aren’t many cases we know of where a judge has ordered a winner to give up their jackpot money. If there’s anything to take away from the unusual story of Denise Rossi, we guess it’s this: don’t get too greedy and don’t break the law. It could end up costing you more than you’d ever imagine.