Boston Globe

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Judge awards jilted husband his ex-wife's secret jackpot

By Ann W. O'Neill, Los Angeles Times, 11/17/99

LOS ANGELES - During his 25 years of marriage, Thomas Rossi says, he never saw a marriage counselor, never strayed, and never doubted a relationship so close that he shared an electric toothbrush with his wife.

Then Denise Rossi shocked him by suddenly demanding a divorce. And she wanted it in a hurry.

Now he knows why: On Dec. 28, 1996 - 11 days before she filed for divorce - Denise won $1.3 million in the California lottery.

She never told anyone, and on Monday her secret caught up with her. A Los Angeles family court judge, ruling she had violated state asset disclosure laws, awarded her winnings to her ex-husband. Every penny.

Superior Court Judge Richard Denner determined that she acted out of fraud or malice. He based his decision on a deposition in which Denise Rossi said she concealed her winnings because she didn't want her former husband ''getting his hands on'' them.

''Moral of story: It pays to be honest from the begining,'' said Mark Lerner, attorney for the 65-year-old jilted husband.

Lerner said that tears rolled from his client's eyes when Denner announced his ruling in court. For her part, Denise Rossi, 49, said she was stunned and is contemplating her next legal move.

''Yes, there will be an appeal,'' said her attorney, Connolly K. Oyler. He called the judge's ruling ''very punitive.''

Thomas Rossi couldn't be reached yesterday, but in his court papers he says that before their divorce the Rossis were ''a couple of homebodies'' who did everything together.

Denise, however, tells a different story in her filings and an interview yesterday. She said she had been unhappy for many years and was looking for a way out. He was always broke; she was always working.

Her chance came, she said, when she and five co-workers in a now-defunct clothing design company pooled their dollars and hit the jackpot, sharing $6.6 million.

''I'd wanted to get out of this relationship for years,'' she said in a telephone interview. She credits ''luck'' for her lottery windfall and blames her ignorance of the law for not disclosing.

She had him served with divorce papers at the little West Hollywood shop where he developed film and shot portraits of aspiring actors. His business folded, and he declared bankruptcy in 1998. He went to work part-time at a chain photo store.

Then fate struck. More than two years after the divorce, a misdirected piece of mail landed in Thomas Rossi's mailbox. It was a solicitation addressed to his former wife from a company that pays lump sums for lottery winnings and big legal awards.

Thomas Rossi obtained a court injunction a few days later.

He said his shaky finances in the aftermath of the divorce made his former wife's secret ''even more despicable.'' Had his she disclosed the winnings, he would have received half under California's community property laws.

This story ran on page A24 of the Boston Globe on 11/17/99.

© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.