ALBANY, N.Y. — It took a while — and a decision by the state's highest court — but a 69-year-old Vietnam vet from Brooklyn, New York, can finally enjoy all his 2007 lottery winnings.
The Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that state officials were wrong to claim half of Walter Carver's $10,000 lottery jackpot as a reimbursement for public assistance benefits he received years before he bought the winning ticket.
"We are thrilled," said Carver's attorney Susan Antos. "This has been a long battle."
Because Carver received public assistance through a welfare-to-work program from 1993 to 2000, the state claimed it was entitled to appropriate half of his winnings from the scratch-off lottery ticket as a reimbursement for the benefit payments.
Carver challenged the move in court, arguing that because he worked for the benefits he should be treated as an employee and afforded federal minimum wage protections.
The state's interception of the lottery money, Carver argued, meant he was effectively paid below minimum wage for the work he performed for the government.
In a 4-2 decision, the Court of Appeals agreed with Carver, ruling that he was "no volunteer. He worked full-time in the WEP program because he had to if he wanted to receive his needed benefits."
Carver, who lived with his brother in Gerritsen Beach at the time, lost his Wall Street clerk job in the early 1990s and received about $150 a month in the welfare-to-work program. He had to shovel snow, sort mail, sweep sidewalks and do other menial tasks.
"You can't require someone to clean the Staten Island Ferry terminal or do any kind of real work and then say you also owe us back for the public assistance we paid you," Antos said.
Kristi Berner, a spokeswoman for the state's Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, shrugged off the court's decision.
"This case precedes the current administration, and OTDA plans to cooperate fully with the decision," Berner said.