HUDSON — Who knows how it all would have turned out if Alex and Rhoda Toth hadn't bought that lottery ticket back in May 1990. She told him they shouldn't since they didn't have the money. Alex, 42 at the time, was on disability, and Rhoda, 33, was a nursing assistant. They had no children together, but six from previous relationships.
They lived on a diet of rice and beans and soup. A few days earlier, they struggled to put down $200 on a 1979 car for Rhoda to use for work. On that Saturday afternoon in May, at a Circle K gas station, Alex was determined to get a Lotto ticket and Rhoda relented. They played a mixture of birthdays — 5, 7, 30, 38, 40, 43 — and left with $24.76 in their pockets, all the money they had to live on for the next week.
But then they won. Thirteen-million dollars. It must have seemed like a gift from God. And it was hard to not be happy for them; they represented the millions out there working and struggling to pay the next bill.
Even the omen of the payments — $666,666 each year for 20 years — couldn't deflate the giddiness. When they talked with reporters the day after presenting their winning ticket, both said they didn't want this money to change them. Rhoda still planned on working. Alex, who had not been able to work as a laborer since a 1977 car accident, mused about going back to school so he could work in the medical field.
"The Toths hope to remain simple, private people," a Times story said.
It took awhile for the enormity of the money to sink in: When they went to look for new cars, Alex kept thinking, "I can't afford this." And then he remembered, oh, yes, he could. He spoke of guarding against the evils of money.
"It creates a lot of pressure on you," he said then. "We'll try to work it out."
But the pull, after so many years of poverty, to live it up was too strong. The Toths took a three-month trip to Las Vegas. They stayed in a $1,000-a-night top floor room at the Mirage. They gambled and took in shows and soaked up the fancy life.
But then they decided they were done with it. They tried it on, but that life didn't fit.
So they came back to Hudson and bought a nice double-wide on 10 acres and put up a white, wrought iron fence. They moved in their parents and were ready for a quiet life, just family and Thursday night bowling.
"We're normal, everyday people," Rhoda told a reporter. "And that's the way we want to live."
But the money was still there. And the nightmare would soon begin, though the public did not know about it until 1996, when the Toths made the news.
"Lottery winner asks court for protection against relative," the Times headline read.
Rhoda was trying to bar any contact from her son, Steven Moser, 19, and his girlfriend, Jennifer Bottass, 18. Rhoda accused them of killing her dog and torching Alex's 1986 Corvette, after Alex — who was not speaking with any of their six children because of fights over money — cut off Steven's $500 weekly allowance.
It seemed that Rhoda and Alex thought Steven's high-school sweetheart only wanted his money. After an argument, Steven went to live with her. Rhoda accused her son of making harassing calls to her and other members of the family.
But, in hindsight, maybe the biggest cue to what would unfold is that, when filing the court documents, Rhoda falsely claimed she and her husband were indigent. The only source of income she listed were their Social Security checks: $444 a month for her and $944 for Alex. The judge, knowing this was not true, made the Toths pay the court filing fee.
That same year, a somewhat famous and intoxicated singer, Bertie Higgins, slammed his car into one driven by Rhoda's daughter, Tifany Moser, then 16. The Toths also made an appearance on Oprah. In an interview with the Times in 1997, Rhoda talked about how the money changed everything.
She said it was good, as she didn't have to worry about bills or where their next meal would come from. But, on the other hand, it shredded relationships with family and friends.
"Sometimes," she said, "I wish we could give it back."
They weren't in the news again for nearly a decade.
Then in 2006, a federal grand jury indicted Alex and Rhoda on charges that they filed fraudulent income tax returns in 2000, 2001 and 2003. If convicted, they each faced up to 24 years in prison.
It turned out they had filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in 2001 and 2002. The 10 acres they had owned was now down to a half-acre with a mobile home on it. The IRS said the Toths also falsely reported gambling losses to offset their winnings. The IRS claimed Rhoda owed $1.1-million in back taxes and Alex owed $1.4-million.
The $666,666 yearly lotto payments were slated to run until 2010, but, according to news reports, the couple cashed in the remaining payments in 1999. Each received about $1.5-million.
In addition to the federal tax fraud charges, Alex also was arrested several times from 2002 to 2005 on charges of writing worthless checks, growing marijuana plants and then violating his four-year probation from the drug charges by growing marijuana plants again.
Then last year, Alex, then 59, was declared unfit for trial on the income tax charges because of chronic pain, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and panic attacks. Last August, the Toths, both walking with canes and with Alex clutching a large plastic bag of prescription bottles, arrived late to a federal court hearing because their car wouldn't start and they had to wait for a neighbor to jump-start it.
Now bankrupt and in poor health, Rhoda and Alex moved in with their son Steven and his wife, Jennifer, the same ones they accused of killing their dog and wanting them dead several years earlier. A previous Times article quoted Rhoda as saying they had all reconciled.
In November, Rhoda, now 50, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. She faces up to three years in prison. She has not yet been sentenced.
Alex was ordered to a federal medical facility for treatment and was later found stable enough to stand trial, which was slated to begin this summer. The couple, who had started divorce proceedings in 1992 but then reconciled, once again separated, according to news accounts.
Then on April 5, Alex died at age 60. Although he had numerous health problems, the cause of his death is not known.
Jennifer Moser said her father-in-law was cremated.
It appears he died penniless.
Information from the Times' archives was used in this story. Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4609.