An Orange County woman who won $12.6 million in the California Lottery last year is suing her son and daughter-in-law in an effort to regain the money, which she claims they coerced her into signing over to them.
Joan F. Markham, 66, a British citizen who was living in Buena Park when she won the prize last summer, alleges that the couple, who are now divorcing, threatened to have her deported or sent to jail unless she gave them the money. They also threatened to keep her away from her grandchildren, whom she baby-sat regularly, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Orange County Superior Court.
“She’s just really upset about all of this,” Markham’s attorney, Milford W. Dahl Jr., said Tuesday. “I think she wants to have control of the money so she can make sure her grandchildren get it rather than have her son and daughter-in-law spend it on themselves.”
The son, Brian D. Markham of Newport Beach, could not be reached for comment. The daughter-in-law, Nicole J. Markham, 41, hung up when reached. Dahl said the daughter-in-law has purchased a home in the Rancho Santa Margarita area with her share of the money.
Markham was vacationing in Great Britain in August, 1994, when, at her instruction, her son used $10 he owed her to buy her Quick Pick tickets.
On Aug. 3, she won.
The elder Markham returned to California in early September and claimed her winnings, which amount to $631,000 a year for 20 years, or $454,320 after taxes.
The lawsuit charges that her son and daughter-in-law, who had begun the divorce process, immediately began a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” to get the money.
“They really stressed her out,” Dahl said. “She is in her 60s and a diabetic and actually went to the hospital on one occasion.”
Dahl said that to preserve her health and her relationship with her two grandchildren, Markham signed over all of the lottery proceeds to her son on Sept. 24, 1994.
The daughter-in-law, who at that point had not been guaranteed any money, verbally attacked her mother-in-law in front of her two children that day, the lawsuit alleges.
Nicole Markham “shouted at the top of her voice that the grandmother was ‘not a fit person to be in this family,’ ” the suit states.
In November, the younger couple entered into an agreement to split the yearly lottery payments.
“The daughter-in-law had nothing to do with it but said, ‘I want it,’ and started this campaign of harassment,” Dahl said.
In addition to the return of the winnings, Markham is seeking a temporary restraining order against her daughter-in-law, who she claims has continued to harass her over the telephone in an effort to prevent her from filing the suit. She also is seeking general damages against the daughter-in-law for emotional distress.
Dahl said, incidentally, that Nicole Markham had learned about her mother-in-law’s windfall not from her husband but from reading a newspaper.
“The son could have gone in and cashed the ticket and no one would have known the difference,” he said.
Markham, who now lives in South County on a long-term visa, declined to discuss the lawsuit on Monday. She also had refused all press interviews after winning the jackpot.
“She is very upset about it,” Dahl said. “She is very timid and was concerned about whether or not to proceed because she knows she is going to get beat up mentally. But she has thought long and hard about this.”