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In 1994, Leslie Bowe struck it rich when he won $17 million in the Florida Lottery. Now, the Pinecrest Village Council member who also works for the Miami-Dade County school system is crying poor. But those who claim he owes them money say he’s really crying wolf. In March, Bowe filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in Miami, asking Judge Robert A. Mark to allow him to reorganize his affairs, pay off his creditors and start anew. On Friday, six of his colleagues, who earlier this year were awarded a share of his lottery winnings by a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, filed a petition asking the court to dismiss his bankruptcy claim, calling it little more than a “litigation tactic” made in “bad faith.” Their petition alleges that Bowe filed for bankruptcy solely as a way to appeal the court judgment against him without having to post a required bond. They further argue that he still has plenty of money and other assets, which, according to court documents, total more than $11.5 million, if you count his lottery winnings. They worry that if he is allowed to continue his appeal without posting bond, whatever is left of their share of the money will be squandered in legal costs or spent by Bowe. Nonsense, says Bowe, who claims he is just a victim of greed by people he once considered friends. “The almighty dollar has convinced them that they should go after me and challenge me,” he says. Bowe’s big bucks battle dates to 1994, when he and seven of his coworkers are said to have entered into an oral agreement in which they would pool their money and purchase lottery tickets. Bowe collected the money and bought the tickets. On one occasion they had four numbers and won $56. The money was rolled over into the next week’s lottery. Then on Sept. 17, 1994, one of five tickets had all six winning numbers and Bowe laid claim to half the $32 million prize. He shared it with another winner in Boca Raton, but not with his coworkers. Bowe became the smiling face clinking a champagne glass in one of the many Florida Lottery commercials. But the fizz went flat the following year when one of the members of the lottery pool sued Bowe, claiming he breached their agreement. In 1997, a jury agreed and awarded Sylvia Giardina more than $500,000, or one-eighth of the money Bowe had already collected. The court also ordered the Florida Lottery to divide the remaining payments so that Giardina would receive one-eighth each year for 20 years. In 1998, the ruling was affirmed by the 3rd District Court of Appeal. That same year, the other six members of the lottery pool decided they would follow Giardina’s lead. They filed suit, seeking their share of the winnings. In February, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas S. Wilson Jr. ordered Bowe to pay $4.9 million to the six and to divvy up the rest of his annual payments with them for the next 14 years. Wilson decided the case without sending it to a jury because, he reasoned, Bowe had already been sued on the same grounds in the Giardina case and lost. Bowe vowed to appeal, arguing that the winning ticket was not one he bought with money from the pool, but from his own pocket. Indeed, for a long time his colleagues believed him and they even testified on his behalf in the Giardina trial, says Bowe. “They spoke the truth to begin with, and now they want to lie for their own benefit,” he says. “The only recourse to protect myself and give me some benefit is that [bankruptcy] filing.” Bowe’s former colleagues now claim they were misled and were coerced into signing affidavits giving up their share of the money. It’s now their contention that Bowe has filed for bankruptcy in order to stay enforcement of the $4.9 million judgment and to keep them from getting what’s rightfully theirs, says Arthur Rice, the attorney who filed the petition on their behalf. “The purpose of Chapter 11 is not to permit people, when they are not able to bond off the judgment, to duck into the protection of a Chapter 11 filing and prosecute the appeal.” says Rice. “The purpose of Chapter 11 is where you have a number of creditors and a debtor who has the possibility of being rehabilitated and where that rehabilitation would produce a payment.” Bowe’s attorneys admit he does have a “stream of income,” including his annual salary from the school system’s construction department of about $46,000, but say he doesn’t have much more money at his disposal. “His assets right now are very limited. That was the primary reason for filing. He does not have the ability to satisfy the judgment these creditors got,” says David Rosendorf of Kozyak Tropin & Throckmorton in Miami, one of the attorneys who represents Bowe. Bowe’s assets, according to court documents, include a home valued at more than $600,000 and personal property of nearly $11 million, most of which are his earnings from the lottery. He drives a Mercedes-Benz valued at $42,700. Bowe also has told the court he had leased a Jaguar but that he had since traded it in for a Porsche. In addition, Bowe owns a now-defunct business called Dugout USA Inc., which operated indoor batting cages and sold sports merchandise. He claims the business lost close to $300,000 in three years and that he ceased operations in April. Despite the shutdown, he continues to pay $8,000 a month to rent space and has no immediate plans to either liquidate the business or to re-open. That money, according to his creditors’ pleading, could be used to pay them. The creditors also claim that Bowe amassed “a large amount of credit card debt” in the months leading up to his filing for bankruptcy. He told the court he used the money to pay for a vacation for his mother and to buy several designer suits. Corali Lopez Castro, another of Bowe’s attorneys, says Bowe filed for Chapter 11 to reorganize his affairs “as opposed to liquidating all of his assets.” They are still, she says, formulating a reorganization plan, which is due to the court by July. Both Castro and Rosendorf say their client intends to pay legitimate creditors, but “he wants to do so without having all of his assets taken before an appellate court can decide whether these claims can stand up in court or not,” Rosendorf said. “We believe there is substantial amount of case law that supports the concept that somebody who is unable to post a bond or satisfy a judgment has the right to file bankruptcy protection and gain protection from creditors,” Rosendorf said.

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