Houston trial over disputed $750K lottery ticket begins

bpurser@macon.comMarch 6, 2012 

PERRY -- The civil trial about a disputed $750,000 lottery ticket purchased in Warner Robins in 2010 got under way Monday in Houston County Superior Court with opening arguments from attorneys and testimony from the person who filed the lawsuit.

The dispute is between Jose Antonio “Tony” Cua-Toc, 27, a native of Guatemala who entered the country illegally in 2000, and Erick Cervantes, a Fort Valley business owner who claimed the winning Jingle Jumbo Bucks lottery ticket from Georgia lottery officials. The lawsuit also names Sonia Cervantes, who was married to Erick Cervantes at the time.

In the lawsuit, Cua-Toc claims that he purchased the winning 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, the lawsuit alleges that Erick Cervantes claimed the winnings on Cua-Toc’s behalf but then kept the money. However, Cervantes claims he is the rightful owner of the ticket.

Jurors are being asked to decide whether Cervantes, who employed Cua-Toc as a day laborer, took advantage of him because he was undocumented, or whether Cua-Toc seized an opportunity to attempt to get money from Cervantes after purchasing a lottery ticket for Cervantes.

That was the crux of opening arguments from attorneys Monday afternoon.

Charles R. Adams III, of Fort Valley, one of the attorney’s representing Cua-Toc, told jurors that Cervantes has told two or three different stories in order to keep the winnings that came from the lottery ticket that Cua-Toc purchased for himself.

But Kelly Burke, a Warner Robins attorney representing Erick Cervantes and Sonia Cervantes, told jurors that Cua-Toc was broke and that Erick Cervantes gave him some money for beer and cigarettes. Cervantes also gave Cua-Toc $20 to get Cervantes lottery tickets, Burke told jurors.

Burke also told jurors he expected to present witnesses who could testify that Cua-Toc bragged, “Eric won big. He’s even going to give me some money. He may even give me his truck.”

Burke also told jurors that Cua-Toc threatened to kill the Cervantes family, saying he had “cousins in North Carolina who will do it for $200. They’ve done it before.”

At a previous hearing in the case, Cua-Toc denied having threatened Erick Cervantes and his family.

Burke told jurors Cua-Toc was after more than the money.

“Seven-hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars is a lot of money but to stay in the United States is priceless,” Burke said.

Burke also told jurors that about $460,000 was left of the ticket winnings after federal and state taxes.

Dressed in a striped-green shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, Cua-Toc told his story through a court-appointed interpreter. He said Cervantes never asked him to buy a lottery ticket. Cua-Toc testified he wasn’t broke but had $700 in cash, including money for rent and utilities, on him when he purchased the winning ticket.

Cua-Toc told jurors he trusted Cervantes as his friend who promised to give all the money after claiming the winning ticket at a Macon lottery office.

Jurors also viewed a security surveillance video of Cua-Toc and his girlfriend taking the ticket back to the OM Food Mart the night Cua-Toc purchased it to see if it indeed was a legitimate winning ticket.

Cua-Toc raised his arms in the air on the video with the news that the ticket was indeed valid for $750,000. He also hugged and kissed his girlfriend.

“Thank you God,” Cua-Toc told jurors of what he was saying as he raised his arms in the air on the video. “Thank you for this. For so long, I’ve been waiting for this.”

Cua-Toc testified he became concerned that Cervantes wasn’t going to keep his promise when he failed to show up at a Fort Valley attorney’s office a few days after the ticket was won. The meeting had been set up by a friend of Cua-Toc’s to ensure proper legal procedures were followed in claiming the ticket winnings, Cua-Toc testified. The meeting was with Charles R. Adams Jr., the father of Charles R. Adams III. Both are representing Cua-Toc, along with Herbert L. Wells, of Perry, in the civil case.

Testimony from Cua-Toc is expected to continue Tuesday morning. Judge George F. Nunn is presiding.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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