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Lottery winners get big check amid debt questions

Richard and Mary Morrison hug at a lottery

Richard and Mary Morrison hug at a lottery claim center in Garden City on Thursday afternoon. (Jan. 7, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

On the day Miller Place mega-millionaires Richard and Mary Morrison received a novelty $165-million check during a ceremony with lottery officials, Suffolk County's comptroller released new information about the couple's debts to the county, and state officials said the Morrisons owe thousands in income taxes.

The Morrisons dispute a Suffolk claim that they owe taxpayers nearly $1 million for overcharges to the county for homeless shelters they once ran.

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see the latest photos of Richard and Mary Morrison

>>VIDEO: Click here to watch Mega Millions winners receive check at ceremony

To counter the Morrisons, Comptroller Joseph Sawicki Thursday released a May 2, 2005, letter in which the Morrisons' attorney, Michael Solomon, made an offer to repay $10,000 a month for five years to satisfy a 2004 audit that found the Morrisons' owed the county money. The money was to be deducted from the county's ongoing payments to Love'M Sheltering Inc. The Department of Social Services canceled Love'M Sheltering's contract before a repayment agreement could be finalized.

"The audit stands on its own. Their attorney agreed to pay back in 2005, and now it makes no sense to deny they owe the money," Sawicki said. "Hiding behind a corporate veil does nothing for their credibility. The fact is they misspent taxpayer money and they still owe it to us."

The lottery winners also owe the state $18,371 in back income taxes, according to the State Taxation and Finance Department. The taxes are for 2007 and a warrant was filed with the secretary of state on March 5, 2009, according to tax department spokesman Brad Maione.

>>VIDEO: Click here to see what other LIers think about Mega Millions winners

Solomon said he does "not know what letter Sawicki is talking in reference to" and declined to comment on the Morrisons' state tax issue.

During Thursday's ceremony in Garden City, officials would not let the couple answer questions about the lawsuit with Suffolk County, or Richard Morrison's plans to write a book about the Constitution's Preamble.

When a reporter asked if the Morrisons planned to repay the money, lottery spokeswoman Yolanda Vega took the microphone and said: "That is not about the check presentation."

Another reporter asked about Richard's book, and Vega again took the microphone: "Could we talk about Yolanda and [lottery announcer] Ralph [Buckley] presenting a check for $165 million?"

Lottery spokeswoman Jennifer Givner said the lottery commission "didn't want to address issues of a private nature at a check presentation ceremony."

The Morrisons won the largest jackpot in Long Island history on Dec. 22. The Mega Millions winnings, paid as a lump sum, are expected to be about $102 million before taxes, Vega said.

With Rick Brand and James T. Madore

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see the latest photos of Richard and Mary Morrison

>>PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of past LI lottery winners

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