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U.N. Error Is Costly Windfall for Woman

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A New York woman who said she thought that she had won an international lottery when she found more than $700,000 in her bank account has been sentenced to two years in prison for spending some of the money, which was intended for a United Nations agency.

Starting in February 1998, more than $700,000 in Italian lire, British pounds and Japanese yen sent from 13 countries appeared in Susan Rouse Madakor’s account at Chase Manhattan Bank. Madakor, 41, who said she recalled buying $100 worth of lottery tickets from a telephone solicitor, began to spend the funds.

A single mother living in a Brooklyn housing project, Madakor quit her bookkeeping job, bought a Laundromat, paid off $30,000 in credit card bills and went on a shopping spree. Chase Manhattan offered its newly wealthy client investment advice and helped her set up a college savings plan and a retirement fund. But then her luck ran out.

The United Nations discovered in late 1999 that money intended for a U.N. Environmental Program account had ended up in an account belonging to Madakor, whose number differed by one digit. The bank froze the remaining $450,000 in the account.

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Madakor sued to get it back, prompting David-versus-Goliath stories in New York tabloids with headlines such as “UN-believable Luck” and “Woman’s Lottery Dream Comes UN-done.”

Her lawyer argued that the foreign governments and the bank failed to correct the mistake within 90 days of the transfers and that she should be allowed to keep the money.

Prosecutors argued that she had no proof of purchasing lottery tickets and that, before the mistake was discovered, she attributed her windfall to an inheritance.

A jury found her guilty of bank larceny and bank fraud. On Thursday, a U.S. District Court judge sentenced Madakor to two years in prison and ordered her to pay restitution to Chase totaling $701,998.94, including the money that remained frozen in her account.

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Madakor’s attorney had argued that prison time for his client, a single parent of a 12-year-old boy, would be excessive. “It’s a tragedy that this woman will be sent to prison for two years,” said the attorney, Allan Haber.

The U.N. cited its ability to catch the mistake in an annual report of the Office of Internal Oversight Services as an example of greater attention to ending mismanagement.


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