After picking up his $30-million jackpot from the Super 7 lottery last month, Ray Sobeski enjoyed the kind of financial freedom that most Canadians can only dream of: He cancelled his credit cards, bought $28-million worth of GICs, put $640,000 in a cash account, bought a series of airline tickets and wrote substantial cheques to a few close friends.
A lifelong car enthusiast, Mr. Sobeski now had the money to buy whatever model he chose. But on May 4, his financial affairs took an unexpected turn: He suddenly found himself unable to withdraw enough money for a trip to Tim Hortons, let alone to a Porsche dealership.
With the stroke of a judge's pen, Mr. Sobeski's accounts had been frozen, along with all of his other assets, from his safety deposit box to the black 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier he had parked at his parents' farm near Woodstock, Ont.
"He wasn't a happy man," says an observer familiar with the case. Since then, Mr. Sobeski has regained access to half the money, but still could face a long legal battle.
It's the latest chapter in the intriguing story that has emerged since Mr. Sobeski came forward on April 1 to collect his $30-million windfall, just days before his year-old ticket was to expire.
Mr. Justice David Aston of the Ontario Superior Court ordered Mr. Sobeski's assets frozen on May 4 after reviewing a statement of claim by Nynna Ionson, a 47-year-old Woodstock woman who married Mr. Sobeski in 1998. Ms. Ionson charges that Mr. Sobeski hid his win from her while engineering a plan to keep the money out of her hands. The ruling suggests the courts may see merit in Ms. Ionson's claim.
A second order, released the following day by another judge, gave Mr. Sobeski access to part of his money, but ordered that $15-million be held pending the outcome of Ms. Ionson's court action. The judge also ordered the bank to turn over the details of Mr. Sobeski's bank accounts and investments, along with the records of all withdrawals he has made since he picked up his lottery winnings.
The statement of claim marks a change of heart on the part of Ms. Ionson, who maintained her faith in Mr. Sobeski long after others had advised against it.
"I still love Ray and I was of the belief that he would be in touch with me and that we would continue to be together," she says in the court document. "However, now that I have not heard from him over the past four weeks, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that he does not wish to continue to have a relationship with me and, as such, I have decided to pursue my legal rights."
Those rights may be easier to enforce than some had feared. Although many had speculated about the prospect of Mr. Sobeski transferring his millions offshore, it turns out that the money is in the Royal Bank of Canada, most of it in guaranteed investment certificates and a substantial cash account that Mr. Sobeski apparently used to fund his day-to-day activities after cancelling his credit cards.
A source with extensive knowledge of the case expressed amazement that the funds are still in Canada: "I thought it would be long gone," he said.
The dispute has exposed Mr. Sobeski to extensive public scrutiny. Although he learned in April, 2003, that he had won the lottery, he waited more than 11 months to pick up his jackpot.
At the time, Mr. Sobeski said he delayed collecting the money because he "didn't want to do anything rash." It has since appeared that there is far more to it than that.
Mr. Sobeski has been married three times.
His second wife, Sherry, has two children by Mr. Sobeski and has retained a lawyer to explore her options with respect to child support.
Ms. Ionson, his most recent wife, has taken more aggressive action. In her statement of claim, she says Mr. Sobeski's lottery windfall must be considered as part of the marital assets, meaning that she would be entitled to half of the winnings.
The critical issue will be whether or not the relationship between Ms. Ionson and Mr. Sobeski ended before his lottery win. Through a lawyer, Mr. Sobeski has insisted that he divorced Ms. Ionson in 2002, and that she has no right to any of his newfound riches. Ms. Ionson's statement of claim tells a different story.
She maintains that her relationship with Mr. Sobeski went on long after his lottery win and that he hid his windfall from her while he plotted to keep it out of her hands. When she called his cellphone on the morning of April 1, 2004, she says Mr. Sobeski told her he was in Calgary, when he was actually in Toronto at the Ontario Lottery Corporation picking up his winnings.
Ms. Ionson says Mr. Sobeski appeared in Woodstock that evening, and took her to the Quality Inn for a night of sex, yet failed to mention his newfound wealth. The only incongruity Ms. Ionson noted was the fact that he sent her out for Chinese food, then told her she could keep the change an atypical gesture for the frugal Mr. Sobeski.
Ms. Ionson only learned of the win the next day, when she saw his photograph on the front page of a newspaper. That morning, he had told her he was going away for a few days, but promised to return with a "special surprise." When Mr. Sobeski failed to reappear, Ms. Ionson found her faith tested: "I still love him, and I want to believe in him," she said at the time. "But it's getting harder every day."
Ms. Ionson was an impoverished mother of four children when she met Mr. Sobeski in 1994. They married in 1998. The statement of claim describes a passionate but unusual relationship Mr. Sobeski and Ms. Ionson slept together virtually every night, but she returned to her home in Woodstock each day to care for her children.
The arrangement was at Mr. Sobeski's insistence, according to the statement of claim: "The reason for such an unusual relationship was the fact that Ray was bitter about losing custody of his two children from a previous marriage and did not want to have my children live with us."
Although Mr. Sobeski served her with divorce papers in 2003, Ms. Ionson says he assured her they were a mere formality, designed to smooth over a legal problem. In any dvent, she says, their relationship continued long after Mr. Sobeski won the lottery in April, 2003. The court file includes numerous items to prove the two were together as recently as last month.
Included are restaurant bills, telephone records, photographs, handwritten notes from Mr. Sobeski, and what amounts to a sexual scorecard for this year's Valentine's Day weekend: According to Ms. Ionson's records, the couple had sex once in Mr. Sobeski's car, four times at the Burlington Holiday Inn, once at the London Airport Inn and once at Mr. Sobeski's rented home near Woodstock.
Ms. Ionson's legal documents summarize a long relationship that was abruptly severed by Mr. Sobeski after he collected his $30-million: " ..... the parties started a romantic and conjugal relationship on the 10th of December of 1994 which they continued until the 10th of December of 1998, when they married each other. That relationship continued until the 2nd day of April, 2004, at which time the Defendant left the jurisdiction and has cut off any communication with the plaintiff."
Ms. Ionson believes that even if the courts were to accept the divorce papers served on her by Mr. Sobeski, she is still entitled to half of his winnings, because the lottery draw took place long before the divorce was finalized. "On February 8th, 2004, the date the divorce was granted, Ray had the ticket in his possession, which entitled him to $30,000,000, and as such, I verily believe that the full amount of the $30,000,000 would go into his net family property ....."