Malcolm Ramsey, 55 and mentally incompetent, hit it big when he won the lottery prize of "$500 a week for life" in October 2013. He took the lump sum option, granting him $403,288 before taxes, and within four weeks has spent more than half of the winnings, reports Tampa Bay Times.
Ramsey winning the lottery was not known to the staff of the Loving Care assisted living facility in St. Petersburg where he lives until relatives, who had never paid attention to him before, began showing up en mass. Bags from T.J. Maxx and Bealls began filling his room and boxes of new athletic shoes were stacked against the wall. Only then did the rumors begin that Ramsey had won the lottery.
A diagnosed schizophrenic, Ramsey is under the guardianship of nonprofit Aging Solutions, but can come and go as he pleases. He does not take medication. A judge appointed Aging Solutions as the responsible party to pay Ramsey's bills and monitor his care. They were not made aware of his winning the lottery until after he had spent half the winnings, and only because of his family visiting.
"It was people who were around that had never been around before," says Lona DiCerb, director of operations at Aging Solutions, "That's troublesome when family he'd never spoke of prior began coming around."
DiCerb and the judge handling the case think the Florida Lottery should be checking to see if a winner has been adjudicated incompetent before handing over winnings, just as it checks to see if winners owe child support. A simple search on the internet will tell them whether someone is under financial guardianship.
Ramsey was a regular lottery player, buying scratch-off tickets for $1 each frequently from Quick Pick gas station, a lottery retailer with $101 million in annual ticket sales.
When Ramsey bought his winning ticket he tucked it away for a few weeks before reaching out to Charlie Springer, a driver for Bat's Taxi who sometimes parks at Quick Pick when business is slow. Springer called lottery headquarters in Tallahassee on behalf of Ramsey to see what was needed to claim his prize.
With money borrowed from Springer, Ramsey rode a bus to Largo to get a copy of his birth certificate from the Pinellas County Vital Statistics Office. He then used the certificate to get a new ID card from the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. Springer loaned him another $50 to open a bank account at Wells Fargo so a place for his winnings would exist, reports Tampa Bay Times.
All of this was done by Ramsey without the knowledge of his guardian.
Springer drove Ramsey to Tallahassee to collect his winnings from lottery headquarters. He presented his ID and refused to have his picture taken. The lottery's press release simply read, "St. Petersburg man turns $1 into $500 a week for life."
When Ramsey gained possession of the money a few days later he got a cashier's check from Wells Fargo for the full amount and cashed it at an Amscot store. Tampa Bay Times reports Ramsey was charged more than $14,000 in fees by Amscot.
Ramsey walked away with $19,678 in cash and 268 money orders, each for $1,000. Then the shopping sprees began.
Ramsey cashed 21 of the money orders on November 6, and multiple money orders were cashed every day after that, according to Financial Juneteenth. On Black Friday he got $8,000 and bought flat-screen TVs at Wal-Mart. A trip to Tyrone Square Mall, the Ellenton outlet mall and the Wagon Wheel Flea Market resulted in so many new clothes purchased he had to get plastic bins to hold them all. Ramsey also purchased about 40 Timex watches for his family, at $19.95 a piece.
When Ramsey showed up at the St. Petersburg courthouse December 3 to receive a copy of his 662-page guardianship file, with $662 in cash to pay for it, Judge Laughlin took action.
"I got suspicious when they told me he was downstairs with a pocket full of money," the judge says.
A detective was called out to Loving Care, where Ramsey handed over $118,000 in money orders from his locked closet. A court investigator was assigned to determine where the rest of the money went. Ramsey's family admits he bought them things, including new phones and cash gifts.
"Giving $300 here, $400 there, that wouldn't account for the amount of money that is missing," Laughlin says.
Police are investigating whether anyone took illegal advantage of Ramsey as exploitation of the disabled or elderly is a felony.
Due to Ramsey's windfall he is in jeopardy of losing his Medicaid benefits, which pays for his medical bills, and SSI, a needs-based program that covers his $1,000-a-month room and board and would cover expensive nursing care he may need in the future.
"There are certain income and resource restrictions in order for you to be eligible for the benefits," says Patti Patterson to the Tampa Bay Times, a Social Security Administration spokesperson. "So you can only have so much in the bank."
Had Judge Laughlin known about Ramsey's winnings sooner she could have set-up a special needs trust that would have allowed the money to be spent for his benefit but not jeopardized his government assistance.
Ramsey only has one response to the entire situation: "They took my money."