A woman who kept $1.3 million in lottery winnings secret from her estranged husband to avoid having to give him half in their divorce settlement will now have to turn over the whole pot to him, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Denise Rossi must give up her entire lottery share under a Family Code statute that penalizes spouses for falsifying data about their property.
In upholding an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard E. Denner, the appeals panel rejected Rossi’s assertion that her winnings were actually a gift of separate property from her co-worker, who headed a lottery pool that hit the jackpot in December 1996.
Rossi, also known as Denise De Rossi, claimed she paid $5 a week into the pool along with other workplace colleagues, but that she pulled out just before her group won $6.68 million. Instead of being entitled to a community property cut of the pot, she said, she really was given only a separate property gift by her co-workers who had so recently played the lottery with her.
Justice Norman Epstein of Div. Four agreed with Denner that the argument was not credible. He noted that Rossi filed for divorce less than a month after her group won the lottery, she consulted with the state lottery commission on how she could keep her husband from getting his hands on the prize, she used her mother’s address for annual checks and other correspondence from lottery officials so her husband wouldn’t know about it, and she never did tell her husband about her jackpot.
He found out about it a year and a half later when a letter was sent in her name to his address, asking if she was interested in a lump-sum buy-out of her lottery winnings.
“The record supports the family court’s conclusion that Denise intentionally concealed the lottery winnings and that they were community property,” Epstein said.
Under those circumstances, he said, Thomas Rossi was entitled to 100 percent of the lottery winnings under Family Code Sec. 1101(h).
The justice called the severe sanction of that statute important to promote full disclosure in divorce proceedings, which is in turn essential to the trial court to determine the proper division of property and the correct support awards.
The appeals court also rejected Denise Rossi’s claim that her ex-husband’s own unclean hands overcame the statutory penalty. She argued that her former spouse battered her emotionally and physically and that he also kept some assets hidden from the court. But Epstein said the cases she cited to support her contention were off point.
The claim that the award should be blocked because it would just be used to pay Thomas Rossi’s attorney fees was also rejected. The Superior Court could have awarded the ex-husband attorney fees on top of the award, but in its discretion decided not to, Epstein said.
He was joined by Presiding Justice Charles Vogel and Justice J. Gary Hastings.
The case is Rossi v. Rossi, B141041.