5 Real People Whose Lives Were Ruined by Winning the Lottery

#2. Jose Antonio Cua-Toc Wins $750,000, Gets Kicked out of the U.S.

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In early 2000, Jose Antonio Cua-Toc fled from Guatemala to the U.S., where he found gainful employment in Macon, Georgia, and began his search for the American dream. In November of 2010, he finally found it, or at least that particular American dream some folks aspire to vis-a-vis being randomly handed $750,000.

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Wait, that isn't the only type of American dream?

At the time of the lottery win, Cua-Toc was working as a laborer for a guy named Erick Cervantes. Having crossed the border illegally, Cua-Toc was not a U.S. citizen, and he didn't have a visa, either. His quite understandable concern was that he might face some unwanted scrutiny by cashing in the winning ticket.

So Cua-Toc went to the one guy he knew might be able to help him out -- his boss. And Cervantes basically said, "Sure, I'll cash it in for you." You know what happened next, don't you? We don't have an exact transcript of the conversation, but the gist of it likely went something like this:

Cua-Toc: "Were you able to cash in that ticket for me?"

Cervantes: "Ticket? Why, I have no idea what you are talking about, stranger." (Speeds off on a brand new gold-plated jet ski while laughing maniacally.)

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"Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of all this yachting."

So Cua-Toc kinda flipped out a bit after that, and the next few years weren't too fun. He allegedly threatened Cervantes and his family and was jailed for several months on terrorism charges. He then became embroiled in a very costly lawsuit to try to recoup his money.

Cua-Toc eventually did win much of his money back in the lawsuit, since there is no law preventing non-U.S. citizens from playing the lottery, any more than a tourist from outside the U.S. would be prevented from collecting his winnings from a casino poker tournament. However, after receiving what was left of his prize ($500,000 after taxes, minus $250,000 in attorney's fees, minus an additional $50,000 in fines, and so on), Cua-Toc was given a choice: leave the country voluntarily or be deported, in which case he would be barred from returning to the U.S. for a period of at least 10 years. Oh, and then he was thrown in jail on a drunk driving conviction.

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On the plus side, he now had enough money for Martha Stewart prison.

#1. Timothy Elliott Violates His Parole by Winning a Million Dollars

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Timothy Elliott's life ambition was to win one of the grand prizes in the Massachusetts state lottery. We're not saying that to be snarky -- this actually did seem to be Elliott's grand vision for his life. For example, there was the time in 2006 when he committed armed robbery at one convenience store, fled to another convenience store, and spent his take on lottery tickets (and didn't win).

We should point out here that Elliott was diagnosed with schizoid personality disorder, and for the above incident he was given probation and mandatory mental health counseling in lieu of any real jail time for his caper. And, as part of his probation, he was instructed to stay out of trouble: no leaving the state, no drug use, no gambling, the standard stuff.

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Nothing but sitting in a chair all day long, super depressed.

But then his luck took a turn for the better when he purchased another state lotto ticket the legit way in November 2007 and won a million bucks. Finally! See, persistence pays off, kids.

Oh, wait -- remember the list of stuff he was supposed to avoid while on probation? And how "gambling" was on there? Yeah, as it turns out, paying a dollar or whatever for a scratch ticket is still considered gambling, if you want to get technical about it. So when Elliott cashed in his $1 million winning ticket, a picture of him went in the papers. Somebody saw the (actually pretty awesome) photo ...

Massachusetts State Lottery
That's a mug shot we wouldn't be ashamed of.

... and realized that it was none other than that Timothy Elliott. He was arraigned less than 48 hours after his big day, facing not only a return to jail, but also the forfeiture of his million-dollar dream.

Fortunately, this story has a relatively happy ending. Elliott is still an ex-con, but the courts overturned the probation violation and ended up giving him his winnings, with the provision that he pay a modest restitution. We say "relatively" happy ending, because if you have learned nothing else from this article, it's that winning that much cash appears to be a goddamned curse.


Will Millar would like to thank his parents, Charlie and Ellen, for giving him the inspiration for this article. He'd also love it if you checked out his book, Infernal Machines.

Related Reading: People have actually gotten super rich through methods even less effective than the lottery. One chef for Google made $26 million when the company went public. If you do manage to wind up wealthy, these luxury spa treatments are a great way to waste your new-found wealth. Why WOULDN'T you pay to be massaged by snakes? Now that you're really enjoying the fruits of your fantastic fortune, take a minute to learn the things you need to stop saying.

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