Court rules for lottery winners in $1M Suffolk case

Mary and Richard Morrison show off their new Mary and Richard Morrison show off their new Infinity sedan, one of the six new cars they have purchased since they won the $165 million Mega-Million lottery four months ago. (April 8, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Richard and Mary Morrison just won another million dollars.

A State Supreme Court justice ruled this month that Suffolk County can no longer hold nearly $1 million in escrow while a civil case between the millionaires and the county winds its way through court.

The question now is whether the Miller Place couple - winners of $165 million in the largest Mega Millions jackpot in Long Island history last December - will ultimately have to pay the county.

Suffolk says the couple owes the money because of overpayments the county made to the Morrisons' former nonprofit corporation, Love'M Sheltering Inc. The overpayments were uncovered in a 2004 audit.

Justice Thomas F. Whelan has ruled that the county failed to prove it should continue to hold the nearly million dollars. But the county still has a claim, and parties are due back in court in December, court records show.

Whelan's decision "speaks loud that they never should have held the money," said Michael Solomon of Greenport, the Morrisons' attorney. He said the county's lawsuit is an attempt to "embarrass the Morrisons into paying the money," which he does not believe the couple owes.

County Attorney Christine Malafi said the county plans to follow through with its lawsuit to "hold them personally responsible to pay back the taxpayers," she said.

County attorneys have said Love'M Sheltering charged the county for pensions that were never funded and equipment it never proved it owned when it worked as a county contractor. The company, which ran homeless shelters for Suffolk County, has since gone out of business.

Solomon has said the county's dispute is with Love'M Sheltering Inc., and the couple owes nothing because the corporation is now defunct. Malafi said the Morrisons "exercised enough control over this corporation" to be held liable for the debts.

The Morrisons also owe Suffolk more than $78,000 in unpaid property taxes stemming from properties associated with Love'M Inc., another nonprofit they operated, county sources said. Those debts will be cleared within 10 days, said Ralph Fasano, chief executive of a Medford firm that has a contract to buy the properties from Love'M and pay off the debts.

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