Millionaire lottery ticket trash-diver keeps most of prize

Aug 28, 2006, 10:20 am (8 comments)

Massachusetts Lottery

The million-dollar question has been the talk of the town for months: Should an 83-year-old Blackstone man share winnings from a discarded Massachusetts Lottery jackpot-winning ticket with the man who said he accidentally threw it away?

When Edward St. John found the $1 million ticket last October after sifting through a trash can at local convenience store, his answer was a resounding no. But the family of Kevin Donovan , who said he tossed the "Hold 'em Poker" scratch ticket, took matters to court, and this week St. John agreed to pay them $140,000 in the settlement because he wanted to see the money before he died.

"The biggest shame in this case would be if we fought the good fight, ultimately won, and Mr. St. John wouldn't have the ability to enjoy a single penny." said his lawyer, Scott A. Ambler.

In Blackstone, a small town on the Rhode Island border, the issue has resonated for almost a year, said Ambler and the owner of the franchise where the ticket was sold, Joe Varin. It's a tightknit town where residents know each other and have often spotted St. John walking around with his cane, rummaging through refuse with rich dreams.

St. John often came to the White Hen Pantry, the convenience store where he found its largest jackpot to date, Varin said. Ticket purchases jumped 25 percent after that, he said. Patrons still come into the store to buy tickets, hoping for big prizes while dispensing their opinions on matters of greed and good will.

"Customers come in and say, 'Kevin Donovan didn't have the right to go forward,' " said Varin, 38. "They ask me. I try to stay out of it. It's a shame the original owner of the ticket passed away and couldn't see a result, but I'm just glad it's over with." Donovan died earlier this year.

In the spring, the Massachusetts Lottery Commission rejected his claim that the ticket belonged to him, but his family kept pushing, and Donovan's son sued St. John in May. Worcester Superior Court Judge Peter W. Agnes Jr. approved the settlement Tuesday, which grants St. John $860,000. He will receive $43,000 annually for 20 years and Donovan's estate gets $7,000 a year before taxes.

Members of Donovan's family declined to comment or did not return phone calls, and St. John directed questions to his lawyer.

Ambler said St. John has an older brother but few other relatives. He said that except for paying some bills, St. John has not shared plans for the money.

The commission will not cut any checks until it receives a copy of the settlement agreement, which Ambler sent this week, said Beth Bresnahan, a state Lottery Commission spokeswoman.

The White Hen Pantry will reap its own benefits, because the commission awards businesses 1 percent of the winning ticket's amount.

"Mr. St. John saved me," Varin said. "He got me 10 grand."

It is not uncommon to see people hunting for abandoned Lottery tickets. In 2004, the commission started holding statewide recycling events in an effort to clean up the trash generated by its games. Sometimes, lucky hunters discover winning tickets among the throwaways. But big money cases like St. John's are rare, said Bresnahan.

A similar case occurred in 2002 in East Falmouth between a convenience store clerk and a buyer who mistakenly discarded a $4 million lottery scratch ticket. A 2½-year legal battle ultimately ended with an undisclosed settlement.

In the Blackstone case, Varin said, most residents sided with St. John and his finders-keepers stance. But in the end, St. John chose to follow the advice of his lawyer, who urged him to agree to the settlement, rather than go through the slow, grinding court process.

"Ultimately, you have to weigh it with the fact that Mr. St. John was 83 years old," Ambler said. "He doesn't have a wife. He doesn't have any children. He's not a spring chicken."

Boston Globe



It just goes to prove that Money Changes Everything.  Those Donovans are greedy.  They stole $140 grand from that old man.  Shame on them.  This opens the door for anyone to claim they "lost" a winning ticket.

 If it were any other prize amount, they probably wouldn't have even bothered.

 Dono-Thieves...that's what they should change their name, too.

In the end, though, St. John probably did the right thing. 

RJOh's avatarRJOh

This just proves a person who's lucky enough to find a winning lottery ticket shouldn't brag about it to the public, in fact a person who's lucky enough to buy a winning lottery ticket shouldn't brag about it to the public either.  There's alway someone out there who think they deserve what others have more than they do.

TheGameGrl's avatarTheGameGrl

If it wasnt for that cute little regulation of "Bearers Instrument" most folks *WOULD* hussle others more outside garbage cans. Glad the case has been settled but dern well know that the lawyers are the ones that reaped the grandest amount.  I have little regard for the Donovans but most of their so called cut ended up as mortgage payments for the summer houses of the lawyers. If ya wanna stand for something stand on your two legs and stop riding the tail of another.  THanks for posting the result of this situation. Was wondering how the fell'r was fairing. :)


If memory serves me correctly, I do believe that he offered Mr. Donovan more than the settlement prior to his death.  Just goes to show, it dosen't pay to be greedy


justxploring's avatarjustxploring

I guess my opinion might be unpopular. I'm not sure the Donovan's were being greedy or felt that they had a right to the money. I agree that the ticket is a bearer instrument, but this man spent hundreds on piles of scratch tickets, and they are coded to track where and when they were sold. So the Donovans obviously had enough evidence to prove the winning ticket was part of the group he purchased on that day. What I mean is, it would be very rare for someone to buy 50 tickets, someone else to buy just 1 ticket in-between and then the first person to buy the next 50 in a series. Didn't Donovan spend $600 that day at the convenient store? No wonder he died from heart failure!

Sure, I'm only human with faults, so if I found a ticket and won a lot of money, I might also fight to keep it. However, in my heart I would know I didn't buy the ticket in the first place and some poor slob made a terrible mistake. It's a tough call, since I am comparing this with finding money or even a Rolex or diamond ring.  Would I pawn the jewelry or look for the rightful owner? I already know the answer to that question. In the case of the lottery ticket, it is a bearer instrument. However, the whole idea of gambling is to gamble something.

Remember in May when a soldier found a winning lottery ticket? I don't know how someone can say what a wonderful gesture that was and then write that Donovan was entitled to nothing. The soldier turned in the ticket to the police and said it was the right thing to do.

I'm happy for everyone that this case has finally been settled.

savagegoose's avatarsavagegoose

im sorry, but i feel if you are too stupid to read a ticket that says u win $ 1 mill and throw it away, then well... ermmm you dont deserve squat.

im happy to hear donovan gets $7k a year for 20 years, thats almost worth nothing after lawyer fees, taxes etc hell be lucky to get $3.5k.


i hope he blows it all on scratchies , and throws it away too! just like his paaw!

justxploring's avatarjustxploring

Quote: Originally posted by savagegoose on Aug 31, 2006

im sorry, but i feel if you are too stupid to read a ticket that says u win $ 1 mill and throw it away, then well... ermmm you dont deserve squat.

im happy to hear donovan gets $7k a year for 20 years, thats almost worth nothing after lawyer fees, taxes etc hell be lucky to get $3.5k.


i hope he blows it all on scratchies , and throws it away too! just like his paaw!

I actually agreed with your attitude 100%, but one day I did something really stupid.  I bought my lottery tickets for FL Lotto. These were the same numbers I've played for a dozen years. I must have had a really bad day, no sleep and a terrible headache, because I'm usually very responsible, but I left my plastic lottery sleeve on the counter. The cashier ran after me and I was already in my car driving away. Of course I would have rewarded her, but it really puts a different light on a situation when it happens to you. No - I didn't win a dime, but I would have totally flipped if my numbers finally came up and I couldn't find my tickets.  I don't know, maybe it's not the same thing. Just food for thought.

savagegoose's avatarsavagegoose

yeah ive left tickets behind, like at a bar where ive been drinking. but here in aust. we get to play registered, where your details are registered to the winning ticket. so even lost or someone else claiming there is your name attached to winning ticket.


so its not as terrifying to lose a tcket out here. 

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