October 2022 Millar’s JurisDiction - Lottery Winners and Losers

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

Lotteries have been around a long time. Certainly longer than I would have ever guessed. According to Wikipedia, at least 392 lotteries were held in the 13 colonies. I cannot personally vouch for the accuracy of that piece of information, but if it is on the Internet, it must be true. It is hard to conjure up a visual of guys in three corner hats riding their horses to the local drug store just to buy scratchers, but who knows.

There is no question, however, that lotteries now are big businesses run in 45 of our 50 states plus Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Like any other form of gambling, the lure is something for nothing, or, more accurately, almost nothing. Names like Powerball and Megabucks are enticing and huge winnings are publicized with most cast as rags-to-riches stories.

My first gambling lesson came on a family car trip from Pasadena to Las Vegas when I was in the tyke stage. When we hit the first restaurant across the state line in Nevada, which had an array of slot machines, my dad said he was going to give my brother and me a lesson on the evils of gambling and put a nickel in one. Immediately, what seemed to be all the nickels in the world poured out. It was the reverse of the education he had hoped for, but the unreality of it all stuck, and neither of us became gamblers.

I have also never played a lottery because the chances of winning more than the ticket price are so infinitesimal that I could never get over the feeling I would be simply throwing my money away.

State-run lotteries make a lot of money for the states—much of it off the backs of those who really cannot afford to buy the tickets. But, nonetheless, many, many play, buying into the hope that theirs will be the ticket to great wealth. A hope which will come true to only a very few.

And those who do win enormous sums are immediately faced with new challenges such as what to do with all this sudden and unearned wealth. Many have turned to lawyers to advise them.

I did not know there were lawyers who specialized in representing lottery winners. Specifically, I had never heard of one Jason Kurland, who self-identified, to use a phrase popular in today’s parlance, as “the lottery lawyer,” and even owned the url “lotterylawyer.com.”

Mr. Kurland, who officed in Long Island, claimed to be the leading lottery lawyer in the country, boasting that his clients included some of the biggest lottery winners in the history of the United States. One of those clients was an anonymous person from South Carolina who won $1.5 billion on a Mega Millions pick.

His pitch, if I may call it that, was that he would provide the investment and legal advice on handling the huge sums that they had won.

Instead, he helped them to become perhaps the biggest losers in American history.

According to reports, he had a side business called Cheddar Capital (a cheesy name if there ever was one), which was some type of merchant cash advance business in which he partnered with one Frankie Russo, the purported son of a late “Colombo crime family capo” and a former securities broker named Frank Smookler.

Mr. Kurland was recently convicted in federal court of five counts of wire fraud, honest services fraud, and money laundering charges for essentially scamming his clients by persuading them to invest in companies, such as Cheddar Capital, in which he had secret ownership interests, and then funneling the money back to himself through kickbacks or finder’s fees. His “partners” had previously pled guilty. The essence of his defense, which the jury did not buy, and which I am obviously paraphrasing, was that his cohorts stole from him that which he had stolen from his clients.

According to the prosecutor, the victims lost “more than $100 million.” Another report puts the tab at $107 million, which is, as my wife would say, “a distinction without a difference.” I have not found any indication that any of that has been recovered.

You could say he took the lot out of lottery.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of FSG Lawyers PC in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.