Lottery ticket at center of civil lawsuit

bpurser@macon.comJanuary 18, 2011 

WARNER ROBINS -- What do criminal charges, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold, a civil lawsuit and a temporary restraining order on further disbursement of funds have to do with one another?

Try a $750,000 winning Georgia lottery ticket purchased in Warner Robins.

Jose Antonio Cua-Toc, 25, of Bonaire, jailed since Nov. 27 in Houston County on a terroristic threats charge for allegedly threatening lottery winner Erick Cervantes and his family, has filed a civil lawsuit against Cervantes and his wife, Sonia, over the winnings.

Cua-Toc is accused of repeatedly calling the Warner Robins couple and threatening “to kill each of them and their children if they did not give him some of the lottery winnings,” according to a Warner Robins police report.

In the lawsuit against Erick and Sonia Cervantes filed Dec. 10 in Houston County Superior Court, Cua-Toc claims that he purchased the winning Jingle Jumbo Bucks lottery ticket Nov. 17, 2010, from the OM Food Mart at 700 Feagin Mill Road in Warner Robins.

But because Cua-Toc did not have the proper documentation to receive the ticket proceeds at a Georgia lottery office in Macon, the lawsuit alleges that Erick Cervantes claimed the winnings on Cua-Toc’s behalf.

Also alleged in the lawsuit is that Cervantes told Cua-Toc that he would return to Cua-Toc the amount of winnings after payment of taxes due on them. The lawsuit estimates that amount at $500,000.

The lawsuit

According to the lawsuit, Cua-Toc worked for Cervantes as a day laborer on a job site in Montezuma. When Cervantes was taking Cua-Toc to the job site the morning of Nov. 18, Cua-Toc told Cervantes about the winning ticket and Cervantes took Cua-Toc to Macon to cash the ticket, the lawsuit states.

Erick and Sonia Cervantes have spent a “substantial amount of said proceeds” on the purchase of an automobile, travel expenses and other items to be determined, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks an injunction from additional funds being spent.

Also, the lawsuit seeks recovery of the $500,000 in winnings after taxes plus interest, the award of $250,000 in punitive damage and recovery of litigation costs including attorney fees.

In addition, on Dec. 22, a temporary restraining order on further expenditure of the lottery winnings was approved by Superior Court Judge George F. Nunn. The temporary restraining order was entered by mutual consent by the attorneys representing Cua-Toc and Erick and Sonia Cervantes and applies to the couple as well as Cua-Toc.

Charges

In addition to terroristic threats, Cua-Toc was charged by Warner Robins police with forgery in the second degree for two forged identification cards. Cua-Toc was granted a $5,000 bond in Superior Court on Dec. 2 on those charges on the condition he be electronically monitored, according to court records.

But Cua-Toc also has an immigration hold on him placed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Houston County sheriff’s Maj. Charles Holt, who is the administrator of jail operations.

Herbert L. Wells, a Perry attorney representing Cua-Toc, said ICE placed the detainer because agents believe Cuo-Toc may be in the country illegally. If Cua-Toc were to pay the bond and be released from jail, he’d likely be picked up by ICE, Wells said. Wells and Charles R. Adams III filed the civil lawsuit on Cua-Toc’s behalf against Erick and Sonia Cervantes.

Wells declined to elaborate on the lawsuit but did say it would proceed regardless whether Cua-Toc is deported. Adams declined to comment on pending litigation through his law office.

Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE spokeswoman, said she could not comment specifically on Cua-Toc’s case but that in general, whatever interest ICE has in person, that issue is not resolved until after any pending criminal charges are disposed of through the legal system.

Cervantes’ side

Kelly Burke, a Warner Robins attorney representing Erick and Sonia Cervantes, said that Erick Cervantes is the rightful owner of the lottery ticket and that the evidence in court will show his rightful claim to the winnings.

Cervantes told The Telegraph Nov. 23 that he sent a friend to the OM Food Mart Nov. 17 with $40 to pick up groceries and two $10 Jingle Jumbo Bucks tickets. He identified the friend only as “Tony” from Guatemala.

“I want to share it with one of my friends, because we basically got it (the lottery ticket) together,” Cervantes said inside the OM Food Mart when presented an oversized symbolic check of the winnings by a Georiga Lottery representative. “So I want to ... I’m going to give him something.”

Cervantes also told The Telegraph, “I gave him the money to buy some stuff. They usually wait until Friday so I can pay them and stuff, but that day, they were a little bit short on cash so I gave them some money. So I said, ‘If you win, we’re going to split it, OK?’ ’’

Cervantes, a native of Mexico City who moved to Middle Georgia in 1996, declined to comment Friday. He owns Elite Power Washing and Maintenance in Fort Valley.

Burke said Cervantes has been “very generous with Mr. Cua-Toc” but declined to say how much Cervantes gave Cua-Toc of the winnings. Burke also declined to go over Cua-Toc’s allegations except to say “we obviously disagree with what he says.” Burke delcined to elaborate further.

A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28 at 10 a.m. in Houston County Superior Court on a motion for an interlocutory injunction sought by Cua-Toc to prohibit Erick and Sonia Cervantes from “withdrawing, spending or transferring” remaining proceeds from the lottery ticket until the civil lawsuit is resolved. Burke said he plans to oppose it because he says the winnings rightfully belong to Erick Cervantes.

Information from Telegraph archives was used in this article.

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