California Lottery Winner Sues Son for Commandeering Winnings
(NEW YORK) -- It's been almost a year to the day since Ronnie Lee Orender and his mom Etta May Urquhart beamed before cameras and accepted a lump sum of $32.3 million—their take before taxes from a $51 million winning lottery ticket.
And it's been almost a year since the Urquhart and her husband Bob have seen any of the money. Instead, they claim in a lawsuit filed April 23 in Kern Superior Court in Bakersfield, Calif., that Etta May's son Ronnie Lee Orender commandeered the winning Mega Millions ticket, leaving his parents with walking-around money while he took the lion's share of the cash.
The court papers claim Orender bought 10 cars and four homes and put millions into accounts that the Urquhart's are not allowed to touch. Etta May, 76, and Bob, 79, also sued Bancorp Bank and Moneywise, SEI Investment Management, and SEI Investment Co., where they say their son invested the money. They are seeking $32.3 million, in addition to punitive damages.
According to the complaint, Etta May has been buying lottery tickets for 18 years. In her declaration, she noted that her son was not supportive of her weekly ticket purchases. "He discouraged me from playing and told me it was a waste of my money," she said.
Still, when she discovered that she had a winning ticket, her son was all too happy to go with her and her husband to the gas station where she bought it to claim the prize, she said in the filing. Lottery officials were already there, and the family was told that they needed to sign the ticket.
But Etta May was so emotional that she couldn't hold a pen, and so her son signed the ticket. Instead of writing his mom's name, he signed his own, she said. Etta May was overwhelmed with all the press attention she was getting, and so her son "suggested that Etta May tell others that she bought the ticket for Orender," the complaint stated.
He also told his mother that he would handle the money on her behalf. She said she trusted him, and agreed to tell others that she had bought the ticket for him, not herself.
Over time, however, she grew frustrated with the financial situation, and fought with her son about the money. According to Etta May, she has only received a Lincoln SUV, about $125,000 in cash and payments for miscellaneous items like a cell phone and gardener. She was also given a house to live in, although she does not own it.
Her son though bought four houses in Bakersfield, at least 10 vehicles—including a Ford Fusion, GMC SUV, and Evinrude boat--and made cash gifts of $350,000.
"Ronnie Orender is my son, and I lived with him for 18 years," she said in her declaration. "I know Ronnie Orender does not have any means to make the purchased or gifts described…with any monies other than those received from my lottery winnings."
When she finally told her son she wanted to be in charge of her cash, he refused, she alleged.
"For me, as a lawyer, I think all it takes is talking to Etta May for two minutes and it's pretty easy to see she's telling the truth and there's no question about what happened," her lawyer, Barry Goldner, told ABC News, adding that Judge Sidney P. Chapin issued temporary protective orders against Orender, his trust, and all of the financial institutions, freezing the assets.
Goldner said he has not heard from Orender yet. "But I can tell you that Etta May went to the same Mobil station twice a week for 18 years to buy lottery tickets, and amazingly, she won $51 million dollars," he said. "And somewhere between having the winning ticket and collecting the money, all of the money ended up with the son."
ABC News attempted to contact Orender and his family to no avail. It is unknown if he has hired a lawyer.
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