A woman who won a staggering $1.3 million in the lottery was forced to give the entire jackpot to her husband after hiding it in their divorce.

Denise Rossi filed for divorce from her husband, Thomas Rossi, on 28 December, 1996, after 25 years of marriage.

Just 11 days earlier, though, Denise had won big. In fact, she’d picked up US$1.3 million — about US $3.1m (A$4.6m) today — in a California lottery, after splitting the US$6.6 million bounty with co-workers with whom she’d bought the ticket.

Thomas didn’t find out about the huge win until two years after their divorce, when he received a letter from a company that pays lump sums for lottery winnings.

The letter was addressed to his ex-wife and said the company had “helped hundreds of lottery winners like you around the country receive a lump-sum payment for the present value of their future annual lottery payments”.

Thomas’s lawyer Mark Lerner said: “I think he scratched his head for a while, saying: ‘What? This can’t be.’”

The ex-husband obtained an injunction a few days later and took Denise to court, where a judge ruled she had violated laws disclosure of assets and funds and acted in fraud or malice.

Denise, then 49, was ordered to pay her ex-husband, then 65, 20 annual instalments of $66,800, amounting to the value of her entire win.

In court papers, Denise admitted to concealing her winnings because she didn’t want her former husband “getting his hands on them”.

She’d had her cheques sent to her mum’s address to hide the prize.

“I’d wanted to get out of this relationship for years,” Denise said at the time, per the Los Angeles Times. She credited luck for her lottery windfall and blamed her ignorance of the law for her failure to disclose the winnings.

Thomas, however, said he was blindsided by the divorce.

“I couldn’t understand it,” he told People in 2004.

“She wanted me to move out of the house very fast. It wasn’t like her to act this way.”

Adding salt to the wound, Denise’s lawyer, Connolly Oyler, said Denise might’ve been able to hold onto the winnings had she been honest about them.

“I could have argued successfully that it was her separate property,” Mr Oyler told reporters at the time.

“Or we could have argued and we would have reached some adjustment.

“But the judge got mad and gave it all to him.”



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