GADSDEN, Ala. — This is the tale of a ticket — a lottery ticket, that is. It began on a February day in 2013 and it ended last week in an Atlanta courtroom, leaving an Alabama man $1 million richer.
Gadsden attorneys Jack Floyd and John Floyd represented Attalla retiree Larry Payne when a Gadsden woman claimed a winning lottery ticket belonged to her. Jack Floyd recounted details of the case.
Larry's hobby is restoring old vehicles. On Feb. 13, 2015, he and his cousin, Jimmy Payne, went to Jasper, Tennessee, to purchase an old Ranchero vehicle to restore. They headed back to Attalla on Interstate 59, and stopped at a Mapco store in Trenton, Georgia, for soft drinks.
As they were leaving, Larry bought one lottery ticket — using the "quick-pick," letting the computer pick numbers for him.
On the way home he gave the ticket to Jimmy, the more computer-savvy of the two, so he could check it and see if it was worth anything.
Jimmy put the ticket with three tickets he had purchased at another time and forgot about them until June 24, 2016. He was packing for a permanent move to Texas when he ran across the tickets. He gave all four of the tickets to Larry, without ever checking to see if either of them had been a winner.
Larry took the tickets, put them under the visor of his truck and, unfortunately, he forgot about them as well, Floyd said.
On July 25, 2016, Larry's nephew, Bryan Payne, borrowed Larry's truck to make a run to Rockmart, Georgia. While he was in Georgia, he found the forgotten lottery tickets under the visor, and called his uncle to ask what he wanted him to do with the tickets. One of them had only a week or so before it became invalid.
Larry told Bryan to stop somewhere and see if the tickets were worth anything, and to cash them in if they had any value.
Bryan presented the four tickets at the lottery station in Rockmart, Georgia, where he found that Jimmy's three tickets were worth a whopping total of $7.
Larry's ticket, however, was a different story.
The store manager told Bryan the ticket was worth more than $600 and the store couldn't pay the winnings on it; he would have to go to the Lottery Commission in Atlanta to claim the money. Bryan got a phone number and made an appointment to go there the following Tuesday.
On Monday, he went to work. He'd been employed at a Gadsden auto body shop for more than two years.
He asked his boss, the woman who managed the business office at the shop, if he could be off Tuesday, Floyd said. He told her about the $600 winnings from the lottery ticket and she told him he could go.
"She said she was happy for him, she even took a picture of him holding the lottery ticket," Floyd said. "You could read the numbers on the ticket in the picture."
Bryan didn't have transportation to Georgia, so he asked if someone from work could drive him. His boss's sister gave him a ride.
He took the ticket to the Lottery Commission and signed it on the back as required. He was told the ticket was valid, but not worth $600. The ticket was a $1 million winner.
Bryan was told the money had to be deposited in the winner's bank account, Floyd said, and he had to go back to Attalla so he could let the commission know where his bank account was so the commission could forward the money.
When he got back to Gadsden, Bryan told his boss about the winnings, Floyd said, and he was told not to tell Larry — to wait so they could have a big dinner on Friday and surprise him with his winnings.
Floyd said Bryan never claimed any ownership of the ticket, and always said it was Larry's ticket.
Bryan went back to work at the body shop — and his boss then took actions, according to Floyd, that would eventually land all the parties in court.
She called the Lottery Commission in Atlanta and told the staff the ticket Bryan had presented was her ticket — that Bryan had stolen the ticket from her desk. The ticket was hers, she claimed, and the winnings were hers.
The Etowah County Sheriff's Office investigated, Floyd said, and the probe ended quickly with no charges against Bryan.
The Lottery Commission turned the money over to the court and filed a lawsuit saying there were two people claiming to have bought the ticket and asking the court to determine who was entitled to the money.
The case went to trial July 17 in Atlanta and lasted until July 22. Floyd said the jury was out for about 25 minutes before awarding the $1 million to Larry Payne.
Floyd said there were several factors in Larry's favor in the case. He and Jimmy had pictures they'd taken with the old Ranchero they bought, verifying their trip.
Also, Floyd said, the Lottery Commission records calls about lottery tickets. "When she made the first call to the commission about that ticket, she was not completely sure where the ticket had been bought," Floyd said.
The woman told the commission the winning numbers were the numbers she always played on lottery tickets — something that was contradicted, Floyd said, by the fact the ticket was a "quick pick" ticket.
Then she said the computer just happened to pick her lucky numbers on that ticket.
Obviously, the jury didn't think so.
It was never admitted into evidence, Floyd said, but the sheriff's investigation ended after Bryan took a polygraph test that indicated he wasn't lying.
"They couldn't admit that in court, but when the jury heard how quickly the investigation ended," Floyd said, "I think that told the jury something."