Victory for lottery winner in battle against state

December 24, 2010 2:42:15 PM PST
There is an update on a story Eyewitness News brought you more than a year ago about a former welfare recipient who won the lottery, only to have half his winnings taken away by the state.

Not only did he recently gain a major court victory in his battle to get back his prize money, his case could result in millions of dollars being returned to others.

Last time we heard from Walter Carver, he was taking on Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city's team of attorneys.

"You can fight City Hall if you believe in your heart and the law," Carver said.

He is suing the city for taking half of his $10,000 in lottery winnings to reimburse the state for money he received years ago while on welfare. Under New York law, the state is entitled to half the winnings of any welfare recipient. That, plus taxes left Carver with a little more than $1,000 the day he went to claim his prize.

"It was a rough day. I was heartbroken. I said I worked for this," he said. "In my heart, I know I'm right."

Carver says the state and city have no right to his lottery winnings, since during the three years he was on welfare, he worked 36 hours a week for his checks, washing floors on the Staten Island ferries. He sued, arguing that taking his winnings is a a violation of the Fair Labor act.

The U.S. District court ruled he had no case and moved to dismiss it. That's when the former sergeant in the Vietnam war and his attorney fired back by filing an appeal.

"We're going up against all of the attorneys in the New York City Corporation Counsel Office," attorney Richard Lamborn said. "They have enormous resources, great depth and all the resources of New York City behind them."

A few weeks ago, Carver and his attorney found out they won the appeal. The U.S. Circuit Court ruled that the lower court's dismissal was in error.

"It's a step toward justice for some of the poorest and hardest working people in New York City and New York state," Lamborn said.

Eyewitness News has learned that since 2002, the state has intercepted $33 million in lottery winnings from welfare recipients, many of them having worked for their checks just like Carver. It is for them, he says, that he continues his David and Goliath battle against the city and state.

"I do think I can prevail," Carver said. "I think there's a violation against my rights and the rights of maybe tens, 50,000 people."

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