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Amscot says it will refund fee to incapacitated lottery winner

Amscot Financial will refund the $14,000-plus in fees it charged to cash a check for a mentally incompetent St. Petersburg lottery winner.

"It's the right thing to do," Joe Kilsheimer, a public relations consultant for the Tampa-based company, said Monday.

Kilsheimer said Amscot employees were unaware of Malcolm Ramsey's mental condition in early November when they cashed a check for $302,446, his after-tax winnings from a "$500 a week for life" scratch-off ticket.

But after reading about Ramsey in Sunday's Tampa Bay Times, Amscot said it would "reach out to the appropriate person," probably Ramsey's legal guardian, and refund the fee.

Florida law allows check-cashing companies like Amscot to charge up to 5 percent of the face value of cashier's checks and even more for personal checks.

"They (Amscot) take a piece of paper and hand over cash, so there's a risk involved," Kilsheimer said. "That's why the fee is what it is."

After Ramsey, 55, was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia, a judge found him unable to handle his financial affairs and appointed a guardian in 2002.

But officials at the Florida Lottery did not know about the guardianship before wiring Ramsey's winnings to Wells Fargo account he opened with $50 borrowed from a cab driver.

For a $1,500 fare, the cabbie also drove him to Tallahassee to claim the prize.

Ramsey got a cashier's check for $302,446 from Wells Fargo on Nov. 6 and immediately cashed it at an Amscot store in St. Petersburg, taking almost $20,000 in cash and converting the rest into money orders. Amscot doesn't charge for money orders but did collect $14,082 for cashing the check, an investigator found.

By the time Judge Lauren Laughlin, who monitors Ramsey's guardianship, learned of his windfall Dec. 3, he had spent $170,000. An additional $118,000 is being held for safekeeping while Ramsey's guardian tries to determine if there's a way the money can be spent for his benefit without jeopardizing the government aid that pays his medical bills and his room at board at an assisted living facility.

Amscot, with 230 stores in Florida, has an operations center in Tampa that employees can call at any time of day to get authorization to cash checks.

Employes who handled Ramsey's check probably didn't think too much about it "because people bring in large checks all the time," Kilsheimer said.

Susan Taylor Martin can be reached at susan@tampabay.com.

Amscot says it will refund fee to incapacitated lottery winner 01/13/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 13, 2014 10:32pm]
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