County says lottery winners owe back taxes

January 7, 2010 3:47:59 PM PST
Winning $165 million shouldn't be difficult, but the Mega Millions payout to a Long Island couple was painful to watch. Suffolk County claims the couple owes the government $1 million.

The couple doesn't agree.

It made for a rather tense celebration.

State lottery officials blocked any attempt to ask Richard and Mary Morrison about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that auditors say they bilked out of taxpayers while running a network of homeless shelters for Suffolk County a decade ago.

According to this 2004 county audit, the Morrisons overcharged taxpayers by more than 600-thousand dollars. Since then, they haven't repaid a dime. With interest, they now owe almost a million bucks.

"All we want is our money back. This is taxpayers' money. All we want if they've netted sixty something million dollars, cut a check for 900 thousand dollars, give it to the county and we'll both be off on our merry way," County Comptroller Joe Sawicki said.

He says the couple lavishly spent money earmarked for the homeless, even buying things like big screen tvs with county funds.

"They certainly knew what they were doing, every step of the way. You don't set up a pension fund and charge the county 185-thousand dollars in one year and not fund it. You don't give yourself and your top staff bonuses and not know it's in violation of county law," Sawicki said.

When county attorneys learned the Morrisons had won big, they went to court to stop the check presentation, until taxpayers got their money back. They only withdrew the request when the Morrisons agreed to hold the disputed amount in an escrow account.

"We owe nothing," Richard Morrison said as he got into a stretch limousine today.

Morrison clearly indicated he didn't plan to pay a dime.

So now the fight over the money continues. The Morrisons and Suffolk County attorneys will return to court in about two weeks to decide the fate of that disputed 950-grand, now just a fraction of the Morrisons' fortune.