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Lotto winner goes to prison for tax evasion

TAMPA — Two decades ago, Rhoda Toth won $13-million from the Florida Lotto. Then she and her late husband spent it all, declared bankruptcy and were indicted for tax evasion.

Toth, 51, stood in federal court Friday hunched over a walker, braces on her wrists and left knee. She told a judge her multiple sclerosis left her with only a year or two to live. Despite admitting to filing a false tax return, she begged to be spared jail.

Little did she know the Internal Revenue Service had secretly videotaped her, sans walker, in an effort to prove Toth was merely trying to avoid jail by exaggerating her medical condition.

If that was her plan, it didn't work. Chief U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich ignored her pleas and sentenced her to two years in prison. Toth will also have to pay $1.1-million in restitution to the IRS.

It has been 18 years since the Toths won the lottery. When they bought the winning ticket, they had $24.76 to their names.

But somehow, that windfall wasn't enough to last them more than a decade. They filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in 2001 and 2002 and, at the time of their indictment, were said to have owed the IRS a combined $2.5 million.

Toth pleaded guilty in November to filing a false tax return. Her husband, Alex, died in April at the age of 60 before he could stand trial.

Before her plea, Toth had faced decades in prison. But Friday, she asked to be spared jail altogether.

"If I go to prison," she said, "I'll probably die in prison."

The IRS saw it coming.

On Wednesday, an agent had videotaped her walking outside her Spring Hill home. Special Agent Frank DeRosa pointed out that the braces on her wrists and left knee seen in court Friday were conspicuously absent.

Her public defender said Toth didn't need to use her walker all the time. Kovachevich appeared unconvinced.

"It is what it is," the judge said, watching.

Then she sent Toth to prison.

Lotto winner goes to prison for tax evasion 08/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, August 14, 2008 12:27pm]
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