More Sad but True Lottery Winners Stories
Originally Posted: Dec 10, 2004
Revised: Feb 27, 2005 (Links added bottom of page)
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No fairy tale life for lottery winner
By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY
HURRICANE, W.Va. Despite having millions, Jack Whittaker lost what he prized the most: His granddaughter.
Jack Whittaker is the biggest lottery winner in U.S history. But after the latest episode in a long, dazzling reversal of fortune, few of his neighbors would call him lucky.
Since Christmas 2002, when he hit a record $314.9 million Powerball jackpot, Whittaker has had hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash stolen from his cars, home and office. He has pleaded no contest to assaulting and threatening to kill a bar manager. He has twice been arrested on drunken-driving charges and was accused of groping women at a racetrack.
This week, he lost what he said he valued most. His 17-year-old granddaughter, Brandi Bragg, was found wrapped in a tarp under a junked van outside her boyfriend's house near Scott Depot. State police said her body had been there for weeks but would not comment on a report that she died of a drug overdose. Her funeral will be Christmas Eve.
It has been an unlikely odyssey for a lottery winner who seemed better prepared than most for sudden wealth. Already a successful builder, Whittaker pledged a tenth of his winnings to the church and millions more for the poor.
This week's tragedy "doesn't seem fair," said his pastor, the Rev. C.T. Mathews, for whom Whittaker is building a $4 million church on a hilltop here. "Jack is devastated. That girl was the apple of his eye. She was his only grandchild."
Brandi's death inspired pity even in those who had tired of Whittaker's problems.
"Instead of symbolizing the carefree happiness of wealth, the Whittakers are truly objects of public empathy," the Charleston Gazette editorialized Wednesday. "Poorer folks feel their pain."
Whittaker lives in Putnam County, a fast-developing area west of Charleston. Everyone here, even those who never met him, refer to him simply as "Jack." And everyone agrees on his problem: too much money.
Whittaker, 57, did not speak to reporters. But last week, when his wife, Jewel, appealed for information about their missing granddaughter, she said she wished her husband never won the lottery. Had she known what was ahead, "I would've torn up that ticket."
Whittaker bought that ticket for $1 at the convenience store where he stopped mornings to buy breakfast. He checked his ticket after the drawing on Christmas night two years ago but went to bed thinking he'd missed by one digit. The next day, hearing the winning ticket had been sold at the store, he double-checked. He had won the biggest undivided lottery pot in American history.
He appeared at a news conference with a big smile and a big black Stetson. He chose a one-time payout: $114 million, after taxes.
When Whittaker flew to New York City for TV appearances a few days later, Brandi came along. She had blond hair, hazel eyes and the same big smile as Grandpa.
"This little girl means the world to me," Whittaker said. When Brandi said she was afraid of flying, Whittaker replied, "I'll hold your hand."
Whittaker said he didn't want or need the money himself but was looking forward to seeing it enjoyed by his wife, daughter and granddaughter. Brandi's needs, at the time, were simple: She wanted a new car, and she wanted to meet Nelly, the hip-hop star.
Whittaker made good on his philanthropic promises. He formed a foundation that launched a campaign to eventually feed and clothe poor people in each of West Virginia's 55 counties. He also gave a total of $7 million to three preachers and began to build two churches. Whittaker has given about $20 million to charity, according to his lawyer.
The 10% tithe giving back to God what God has given is a biblical concept. But soon Whittaker's life began to evoke the Old Testament's trials of Job. It started in August 2003, when Whittaker had $545,000 in cash and cashier's checks stolen from his SUV outside a strip joint called the Pink Pony. His image as a drinker, gambler and carouser was established.
Through it all, Whittaker neither apologized nor explained. Not after his first drunken-driving charge: "It doesn't bother me, because I can tell everyone to kiss off." Nor after he was criticized for driving a gas-guzzling Hummer: "I won the lottery. I don't care what it costs."
He made one concession. "If I had to do it all over," he told the Associated Press a year ago. "I'd be more secluded about it."
Meanwhile, relatives who were supposed to enjoy the jackpot weren't. Jewel Whittaker felt overwhelmed by the demands of philanthropy. A day rarely passed without at least one stranger coming to the Whittakers' door with a story and a request. For Brandi, the money was too much too soon. She got her car and, by some accounts, five or six others.
In the AP interview, Whittaker said Brandi had lost most of her old friends. "They want her for her money and not for her good personality," he complained. "She's the most bitter 16-year-old I know."
Jewel said Brandi, whose mother is ill, would disappear for days at a time. In September, one of her teenage friends was found dead of a drug overdose in the Whittakers' home while Jewel and Jack were away.
On Dec. 9, the Whittakers reported Brandi missing. The family had last seen her alive on Dec. 4. Police found her body Monday under an old red van turning to rust in an overgrown, snow-covered yard.
It was the property of Steve Crosier, father of Brandi's boyfriend, Brandon Crosier. The elder Crosier said Monday he was told Brandi died of a drug overdose. He said his son panicked and moved her body outside. An autopsy Tuesday found no sign of violence, and police said they do not suspect foul play.
Before Wednesday night's Powerball drawing, the jackpot stood at $30 million a pittance compared with Whittaker's pot. Even so, the store where he bought his fateful ticket had plenty of lottery players. "A lot of them say, 'Jack this, Jack that,' " store clerk Stephanie Kidd said. "They want to win like Jack."
Christmas Eve funeral set for lottery winner's granddaughter
The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The funeral for the 17-year-old granddaughter of record Powerball jackpot winner Jack Whittaker has been scheduled for Christmas Eve.
Bragg's funeral will be held Friday at Ronald Meadows Funeral Parlor in Hinton in Summers County, two years after Whittaker won a $314.9 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas Day 2002.
Burial will be in a family cemetery in Summers County, W.Va., a funeral director said Wednesday.
State Police on Monday found Brandi Bragg's body wrapped in a sheet and a plastic tarp, behind a junked van on property near Scott Depot owned by her boyfriend's father. She was last seen alive by family members on Dec. 4 and an autopsy indicated she died the next day, Trooper 1st Class S.E. Wolfe said.
An autopsy did not immediately indicate a cause of death. The toxicology report is not complete.
Wolfe said Bragg's death was being treated as a missing person case that ended in death. The case remains under investigation.
Whittaker, a contractor, is from the Jumping Branch area of Summers County.
Lottery Winner's Grandchild Found Dead in West Virginia
SCOTT DEPOT, W.Va. -- The 17-year-old granddaughter of Jack Whittaker, winner of the nation's biggest undivided lottery jackpot, was found dead Monday on the property of her boyfriend's family, more than two weeks after she disappeared.
The cause of death was under investigation. Authorities said there were no obvious signs of violence and the death is not considered a homicide at this point.
Brandi Bragg's body was identified by tattoos on her neck, said state police Sgt. Jay Powers. "The troopers had talked to her in the past and knew her," Powers said.
The body was found several hundred feet from a house owned by Steve Crosier, whose son Brandon was Bragg's boyfriend, said Trooper 1st Class S.E. Wolfe. The body was found behind a junked van, wrapped in a sheet and plastic tarp.
A van near a house owned by Steve Crosier is shown Moday, Dec. 20, 2004, in Scott Depot, W.Va. The body of Brandi Bragg, 17, granddaughter of Powerball jackpot winner Jack Whittaker, was found lying next to the van, more than two weeks after she disappeared.
A preliminary investigation indicated that Bragg may have died in the Crosiers' house and her body was later moved.
Bragg was last seen Dec. 4 and her grandfather, a contractor who on Christmas 2002 won a $314.9 million Powerball jackpot, reported her missing five days later.
The state police were asked to join the investigation last Thursday and Wolfe said yesterday's discovery was based on interviews with Brandon Crosier and others over the weekend.
"We dealt with him over the last few days and because of his information ... led us to the body," Wolfe said. "We are focused on him but I wouldn't call him a suspect yet."
Steve Crosier briefly talked to reporters outside his house and confirmed Brandon was Bragg's friend.
"All I know is she OD'd and Brandon freaked out," Crosier said. At that point, people with Crosier pulled him back into the house. In a later telephone interview, Crosier said he did not know any details of Bragg's death.
State police would not comment on whether drugs were involved. An autopsy was scheduled for this morning, Wolfe said.
Whittaker has had several brushes with the law since he won the prize. Earlier this month, a magistrate ordered him to go into rehab and surrender his driver's license after his second drunken driving arrest this year.
He has also been accused in two lawsuits of assaulting female employees of a racetrack. And his vehicle, business and home have been broken into.
In September, an 18-year-old friend of his granddaughter was found dead at Whittaker's home. That death remains under investigation. Whittaker was out of town at the time. State police said yesterday it appears the teenagers' deaths are not related.
Powerball winner's granddaughter found dead
For more details, see tomorrow's Charleston Gazette.
December 20, 2004: Police found Powerball multimillionaire Jack Whittaker's 17-year-old granddaughter dead in Putnam County today.
Police found the body of Brandi Lasha Bragg outside of a house on Scary Creek Road in Scary Creek, an unincorporated area near St. Albans, said Sgt. Jay Powers of the State Police.
Investigators from the State Police and the Putnam County Sheriff's Department have been searching for Bragg since Whittaker reported her missing on Dec. 9. She has been missing since Dec. 4, according to her family.
Police went to 341 Scary Creek Road around 11 a.m. today because people interviewed by investigators mentioned the house, Powers said.
Bragg's body was placed near a van outside of then house after she died, Powers said. Police have not yet established a cause or time of death.
Nobody has been arrested in connection with Bragg's death, Powers said.
Powerball winner Whittaker's granddaughter goes missing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) Record Powerball winner Jack Whittaker has reported his 17-year-old granddaughter missing, police have said.
Family members had not seen or heard from Brandi Lasha Bragg since 9 p.m. Saturday when she was at her Hurricane home, Putnam County Sheriff's Sgt. Lisa Arthur said late Thursday.
"At this time we're treating this as an unusual disappearance," Arthur said. "Normally someone would see her at least on a daily basis, someone in the family."
Arthur said she thought Bragg had three vehicles, but that all were accounted for.
Whittaker reported Bragg missing sometime this week, Arthur said. While Arthur has been in contact with Whittaker, she said she did not know his current whereabouts.
Bragg is described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing 115 pounds with blonde hair and hazel eyes. She also has tattoos on her neck, but Arthur was not sure what they depict.
Anyone with information on her whereabouts is asked to contact the sheriff's department at (304) 586-0214.
Bragg was registered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children as of late Thursday.
Whittaker, a 57-year-old businessman, won a $314.9 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas Day 2002. He took his winnings in a lump sum of $113 million after taxes.
On Tuesday, a magistrate ordered Whittaker to undergo substance abuse treatment and surrender his driver's license following his second drunken driving arrest this year.
Whittaker has been in the news several times since he won the lottery. He spent $14 million to set up a nonprofit foundation to help residents find jobs, buy food or receive an education.
He is named in two lawsuits by female employees of a racetrack who allege Whittaker assaulted them last year. His vehicle, business and home have been allegedly broken into a number of times.
In September, a man's body was found at his home, though the death was not a crime and Whittaker was out of town at the time. Also, he faces charges for allegedly assaulting and threatening a bar manager in January.
Winner of $149M Mega Millions Lottery Faces Divorce
RedNova.com - Dallas,TX,
NEW YORK - Money - not even $149 million - can't buy you love. Juan Rodriguez, who collected the huge windfall in the Mega Millions lottery last month, is now on the outs with his wife, the New York Post reported Saturday. Iris Rodriguez wants a divorce from her husband of 17 years, and she filed the paperwork just 10 days after Juan bought the winning ticket on Nov. 19, 2004.
Iris Rodriguez is seeking a portion of her husband's huge lottery check, the Post said. Rodriguez, 49, opted to take his winnings in a single lump-sum payment of $88.5 million before taxes.
Although the couple appeared together at a news conference after Rodriguez matched the winning numbers, his wife had previously given him the boot over his financial difficulties. Rodriguez had filed for bankruptcy a month before his lottery win, and court papers showed he had just 78 cents in a savings account and owed $44,000 to creditors.
The Colombian immigrant bought the winning ticket at a store near the midtown Manhattan parking lot where he worked double shifts as an attendant, earning about $28,000 a year.
(FYI - Texans contributed $8.0 million to this jackpot winner.)
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