Ann Marie Curcio says her fight with Florida's Department of the Lottery is about more than money. The 58-year-old woman says it's about what is right and what is wrong.
But this week, it also became about a $500,000 lawsuit in which she is claiming Florida's lottery officials are refusing to honor a scratch-off ticket because of a printing error.
"We got wronged. I'm very sad about that," she said from her Ocala home during a telephone interview. "(But) I'm not going to give up."
The story began three years ago when Curcio's husband, Joe, bought her a $20 "Gold Rush" scratch-off ticket for Mother's Day.
The next day the couple headed to Tallahassee to claim their winnings, which was $500,000.
What was supposed to be one of the happiest days in the couple's lives quickly became one of the saddest.
Curcio said Lottery officials told her that there was a problem with the ticket and they weren't going to pay out. The Curcios claimed that lottery officials told them their ticket didn't have a serial number that authenticated the document.
The fight between the two had been going on ever since, with the Curcios claiming they weren't responsible for the apparent printing mistake, and lottery officials refusing to pay.
Curcio's husband, a car salesman, died a month ago of an apparent heart attack, but not before finding two Orlando lawyers willing to help them. On Tuesday, Curcio and her lawyers filed suit in Leon County, asking that Florida honor the $500,000 wining ticket. The lawsuit is claiming the Department of the Lottery had engaged in unfair and deceptive trade practice, breach of contract and misleading advertising.
The lawsuit was first reported by WFTV-Channel 9 in Orlando.
The lawsuit is also asking Florida to pay her attorneys fees and take steps to ensure such misprints don't happen again, said attorney Lawrence Walters, one of Curcio's lawyers.
Walters said Florida's Lottery is just like any other Florida business and has to meet the same standards.
"And the ticket says nothing about a matching serial number," Walters said.
In comparison, when another business — such as a fast food restaurant — holds a contest in which customers can win money, the business has to post the rules in a conspicuous place and also file the rules with Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Walters said that the Lottery never explained to people buying tickets anything about required serial numbers, nor did it post rules about requiring a serial number.
To bring up the need for a serial number now was "the Lottery ... relying on some arcane rule they dug up," he said.
Even if such a rule existed in some forgotten filing cabinet, Walters said, "the average consumer shouldn't not be expected to wade through" such obscure documents to find it.
"The lottery has gotten away with business practices no other business could," he said.
Lottery spokeswoman Jackie Barreiros said the events that led to this week aren't how Curcio or her lawyers describe them. She also said she wasn't familiar with Curcio's lawsuit.
She said the Curcios weren't willing to hand over the ticket for Lottery inspectors to examine it when they first arrived in Tallahassee some three years ago. She also said the couple refused to even take the first step in claiming the prize money by filling out the Lottery's prize claim form.
"From Day One we've emphasized with the buyer, we're human," Barreiros said. "Unfortunately ... we're bound with very specific procedures we have to follow."
But Howard Marks, Curcio's other lawyer, described Barreiros' remarks as ridiculous.
He asked how Lottery officials could have determined the ticket didn't have a serial number if they hadn't examined it.
He also said Lottery officials wanted to take the ticket and keep it, and if they had, without a ticket there would be no case.
Meanwhile, Curcio said she wouldn't give up.
"No, I have to continue with this," she said.
As for what she might do with the winnings if she ever gets the money, Curcio said she's too busy grieving her husband to think about that.
"I don't even know," she said. "I'm taking everything one step at a time."
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