Suffolk to rule on lottery winners' payments

Mary and Richard Morrison of Miller Place show

Mary and Richard Morrison of Miller Place show off their Infiniti sedan, one of the six new cars they have purchased since they won the $165 million Mega Millions lottery in December 2009. (April 8, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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A judge is expected to rule soon about whether nearly $1 million of Richard and Mary Morrison's $165-million lottery prize actually belongs to Suffolk County.

County Attorney Christine Malafi in January sought a court order blocking payment of $950,921.90 to the Morrisons, saying the couple owed Suffolk the money due to overcharges from homeless shelters they once ran. The Morrisons dispute the charge.

Both sides have filed court papers in Riverhead, and the case is now in the hands of State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan, said attorneys for both sides. Court officials did not return calls for comment.

Michael Solomon, the Morrisons' attorney, said the county's dispute is with Love'M Sheltering Inc., a now-defunct corporation once run by the Morrisons, and the couple owes nothing.

Suffolk "looked at these winnings like they won the lottery," Solomon said.

Malafi said "the county is trying to pierce the corporate veil of Love'M Sheltering to get to the owners . . . who are the Morrisons."

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Richard Morrison was executive director of Love'M Sheltering Inc., which ran homeless shelters for the county until it went out of business in 2005.

The county says the Morrisons owe $612,000 identified in a 2004 comptroller's audit, plus interest and other costs. A 2008 State Supreme Court order indicated Love'M Sheltering Inc. would be responsible for repaying Suffolk.

County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki's audit found Love'M Sheltering Inc. overbilled the county in 2000 for retroactive raises, pensions never funded and equipment auditors could not find.

Sawicki said the court proceedings are the county's "best shot to get our $1 million back - it's taxpayers' money." But Richard said the county "is trying to humiliate us into something we have no responsibility to pay."

A State Supreme Court judge and county attorneys agreed to allow Solomon to hold $950,000 in an escrow account while the case is ongoing.

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