Money changes everything. When Leslie Bowe finally returned to the office that Monday, after he had recovered from the chicken pox and made a quick trip to Tallahassee, he was a different man. For starters he was rich, having cashed in a lottery ticket worth $17 million. And he seemed different, too. Always ebullient, he now had the air of someone who had pulled off a miracle, a feat so unlikely that even though he'd long boasted he would do exactly what he had done, no one could quite believe it. The impossible was made real, and Les was floating above the crowd.
Of course everybody knew. The office had been buzzing for weeks, ever since Bowe telephoned Marilyn Hernandez, his supervisor at the downtown headquarters of the Miami-Dade County school board, and delivered the news. "I won!" he told Hernandez, not needing to add, And didn't I always tell you I would?
Looking at Bowe straight on, the colleagues who crowded into his office took note of the barely contained excitement flashing from his brown eyes and then the klieg-light smile that repeatedly burst out to take over his youthful face. It wasn't until Bowe turned his head that the haircut showed. Leslie, what is that? What's in your hair? Is that ...?
Yes, it was. A dollar sign, etched into his hair, inches high and bold as can be, right above the ear. A dollar sign! The man was Mr. Money. At the age of 35, a $40,000-per-year bureaucrat in the school system's contracts management department had lucked into $17 million, and the in-your-face haircut announced to the world that while riches may breed conservatism in some, a windfall fortune was not going to turn Leslie Bowe into a mouse. Indeed a wealthy Leslie Bowe would finance the old Leslie Bowe's most extravagant dreams, and from that dream world would emerge an even more flamboyant man.
"I'm going to buy a roller coaster!" Bowe announced as he prepared to pick up the first of the $850,000 checks he was to receive annually for the next twenty years. He wasn't going to Disney World, the celebrants' mecca where even the rich and famous have to stand in line for a three-minute thrill ride. No, the gesture Leslie Bowe had in mind was grander by far than attending someone else's theme park. He would, at least figuratively, buy his own roller coaster, so that as he roared through a Space Mountain of his own creation, he could control the highs and lows.
And in a way, that is what almost happened.
When money falls in large amounts, it explodes like a bomb. The damage can be extensive. To be sure, quite a few people have become more financially secure since Leslie Bowe purchased a Quick Pick lottery ticket six years ago. They have bought new homes, built additions to old homes, indulged in fancy cars, taken trips, and started college funds for their children. They have helped relatives and friends and enriched several lawyers. But much has been lost, too: friendships, trust, and respect. Some of those who have profited from the lottery win now admit they wish the Ping-Pong balls bearing the numbers 2, 9, 16, 20, 22, and 27 had never been sucked up the tube back on September 17, 1994. They wish that Bowe, a man with a documented track record for good luck and winning prizes, had never organized a lottery pool, and that they had never agreed to take part.
Bowe and the seven co-workers drawn into the monetary maelstrom with him all still work for the school system, most in the same jobs they had then. They all see one another in the halls, in the lunch room, or, in some cases, in the same little office. Some remain friends, and some talk to each other only when they have to. Others don't talk to one another at all.
But all have been changed in unexpected ways.
Leslie Bowe says he is not an unhappy man. He likes his job, he loves his new role as politician -- he's a councilman and vice mayor of the Village of Pinecrest -- and his friends say that if the lottery fallout has left him embittered, it doesn't show. He continues to receive an annual check from the lottery commission, but after two lawsuits and two court decisions that went against him, his share now is just a fraction of what he once thought he'd won. He is still well-off. But behind the engaging smile lurks a deep well of anger. He says he is writing a book detailing his version of the tale. The synopsis: "It is the story of to what lengths greed will take us. They thought they could screw me. But they don't bother me. I don't let monkeys stop my show."
That, too, is what almost happened.
Silvia Giardina also was anxious to see Bowe on that fall morning in 1994, on his first day back to work, but it was not congratulations she wanted to extend. "I wanted to march my wop ass down there and say, Leslie, what gives here?'" she recalls. But Giardina, who goes by the nickname Zibby, had to wait. When she called his office and told him she wanted to talk, Bowe said he was busy. He promised to drop by and see her later that day.
Giardina is a no-nonsense woman of 49 who is known for speaking her mind and acting decisively. She's director of at-risk projects for the school board's construction management department. "Totally organized, dependable, very focused on her work," says her boss, Carlos Hevia. "Self-directed, conscientious, and she gives me reports that are color-coded and easy to read."
On September 19, 1994, the day Giardina and everyone else in the office learned that Bowe held one of two winning tickets on that week's $34 million jackpot, Zibby says her first reaction was confusion. How could Leslie, and Leslie alone, have won the lottery?
Since joining the school system as a project manager three years earlier, Giardina explains, she frequently had run office lottery pools, taking responsibility for collecting the money, buying the tickets each week, and making copies of them for distribution to each of the players. It was a voluntary but time-consuming task, and over the years the rewards had proved to be few. Whatever payoffs there were always added up to less than the original stake, and that money was always reinvested until gone.
In late summer 1994, when the Lotto jackpot had rolled over and grabbed the attention of even part-time players, Bowe stopped by to see Giardina and asked her if she wanted to take part in a pool. "At first," she says, "I thought he wanted me to run another pool, and I said no. Too much work. But he said, No, I'll do it.' And I reminded him of all that was involved. He said he knew; he would do it. So I gave him ten dollars, and I didn't think any more about it."
That's how it began, just that casually. Giardina says when she handed ten dollars to Bowe back in August, she didn't even know who else was in the pool. But since she wasn't the organizer, or in charge of buying the tickets, that didn't matter; she was just a player.
Usually office pools consisted of ten players, so that the group makes the first buy with $100. But later that week, when Bowe handed Giardina copies of 80 Quick Pick tickets for the August 6 drawing, she realized there were only eight participants. No matter, she thought. The odds of winning the jackpot were still the same: almost 14 million to 1.
That week the pool's $80 investment didn't win the jackpot, though it did produce a total of $55.50 in smaller cash prizes, which Giardina assumed would be rolled over into tickets for the following Saturday's drawing. But at work the next week, Giardina learned that Bowe had gone on vacation. He was away for three weeks.
"I was really ticked off," recalls Giardina, "that Leslie had organized this pool and then gone away and left it." So when Bowe returned to the office August 29, she says, she reminded him of his responsibilities to the players. That week, however, the jackpot had dropped back to the minimum of seven million dollars. Giardina says she and Bowe agreed not to play in the drawing of September 3 but to wait for a larger prize.
That larger prize popped up the very next week. With the jackpot at $17 million, Bowe added 50 cents of his own money to the pool's $55.50, bought 56 Quick Pick tickets for the drawing of September 10, photocopied them, and distributed the copies to the players. And of those tickets, two proved to be worth $4.50 -- a total of $9.
When the jackpot went unclaimed again and rose to $34 million for the September 17 drawing, Giardina says she just assumed the pool would play. True, she went home that Friday without having received from Bowe any copies of tickets. But, she notes, the jackpot was huge, she and Bowe had discussed when to play, and the time was now. "It was a no-brainer," she remarks.
To learn that Bowe apparently had defied the odds, and defied their agreement, left Giardina stunned. That night at home, she reported the news to her partner, Robin Singer. "He's getting $17 million, half of last week's jackpot," she told Robin. "He won the lottery."
And without hesitation, Robin declared, "That means we won the lottery."
Over the next few days, as Bowe took off two more weeks of work, Giardina learned the identity of the six others in the pool. She talked to each, expecting them to be nagged by the same question that was torturing her: How could Bowe have bought a ticket for himself, but not for the pool? The others didn't seem troubled, though. "In fact," says Giardina, "they pooh-poohed me. They were not interested. They didn't want to listen to me at all."
On October 3, two weeks after he flew to Tallahassee to pick up the winnings, Leslie Bowe returned to the office, and Giardina finally had a chance to pose the question that had been eating her up. It was a strange and estranging encounter. They had been friends and co-workers for three years. Bowe came into her office, Giardina recounts, and sat in a chair by the desk. He was not his effervescent self, she noticed. "And he wouldn't look me in the eye," she recalls. "He kept averting his eyes, down, to the side, anywhere but at me. What I remember now was that he kept saying, No one told me to play.' And I just kept remembering our conversation, where I had explained the responsibilities to him. And then he got up and left. I didn't know what to think. I wasn't thinking fiduciary contract, oral contracts. I was thinking fairness."
It didn't take long for Giardina to decide what do to. Within days she and Robin invited three friends from outside the office to their Davie home to discuss the situation. Giardina's parents were visiting from New Jersey, and they were there, too. As they gathered around the kitchen table, Zibby told her tale. The reaction was unanimous.
"It was so clear to us, and we couldn't understand why no one else in the pool saw it," says Robin. "My only concern was for the repercussions on Zibby at work. But where were the others on this? That was everyone's question. Still, to this day, I don't get it. For whatever reason they needed to believe Leslie. They were invested in his integrity. They were convinced they had no right to the money."
A month and a day after the lottery win, Giardina filed suit for breach of contract, alleging that she, Bowe, and six others had "entered into an oral agreement to pool their monies together and share in the proceeds of any winning lottery ticket purchases. Thereafter defendant further agrees to be in charge of purchasing the weekly tickets on behalf of the pool."
The seven people who ended up in the lottery pool with Leslie Bowe got there in a process that was haphazard and random. But Bowe had a reputation for being lucky. At work he was known for keeping the radio on, and if he heard a promo for a call-in give-away, he put the station's telephone number on his speed dial. He'd won a car, among other prizes, and his reservoir of luck was far from exhausted. Well after the big lottery win, one of his co-workers recalls watching a cable-television show out of New York on which she saw Bowe's name drawn as the winner of a trip for two to California's wine country.
"I've been at two or three events with him where his name has been pulled from a hat for door prizes," says fellow Pinecrest council member Cindie Blanck. "Some people just come on to the planet and are known for one thing or another. And his things are good luck and magnetism. It bars explanation."
On the day in August that their personable office mate buzzed around the old Omni Plaza building on NE Seventeenth Street to solicit them, the players weren't thinking much about hitching their wagon to Bowe's lucky stars. Rather, they were there, they had ten dollars, and when Bowe asked, they thought, Why not? He stopped by to see those he knew, of course, but he did not seek out any particular players.
The pool players represented a good cross section of Miami itself, a crazy quilt of race and ethnicity, diverse in culture, gender, and personality. The players included Julio Alvarez, age 52, director of project and contract management and Leslie's boss; Alvarez's secretary, Maria Hernandez, a quiet woman of 46; Bowe's supervisor, Marilyn Hernandez, age 50, an administrative assistant and no relation to Maria; Elaine Franklin, age 61, a processor of work orders and a single woman and grandmother; Caridad Menendez, age 41, who prepared invoices in Alvarez's department; and 46-year-old Carol Neal, executive secretary to a deputy superintendent and a good-natured born-again Christian. Alvarez, Menendez, and Maria Hernandez are Cuban American. Marilyn Hernandez is Puerto Rican. Neal is African American. Franklin is white non-Hispanic.
Six women and two men. Over the years, at lunch, around the water cooler, at office birthday parties, they had grown to know one another pretty well. Bowe had played softball with Zibby Giardina on a team she'd organized. Bowe and Marilyn Hernandez chatted frequently throughout the day. After Giardina's Kendall home was damaged by Hurricane Andrew, she remodeled the kitchen, and Marilyn Hernandez bought her old stove. Using her pickup truck, Giardina delivered it to Hernandez's house in Hialeah.
The lawsuit immediately changed the dynamic of the office. Zibby was shunned. She heard laughter behind her back, overheard gossip meant to be overheard, and found insults left on her voice mail. Once, she picked up her digital pager and found a one-word slur: lesbo.
Even Elaine Franklin, once Zibby's closest friend in the office, didn't want anything to do with her. Before the lawsuit they had lunched together several times a week. Franklin, along with her daughter and grandchildren, had been at Giardina's house for dinner, and they had exchanged Christmas gifts. But all that was in the past. When Giardina asked Franklin to join her in the lawsuit, she said no: Bowe had said he'd bought the tickets for himself and hadn't reinvested the nine dollars won the previous week. Indeed he'd shown Franklin and the others the nine dollars' worth of tickets -- still uncashed -- and that seemed to satisfy them.
Because they occasionally had to talk to one another in the course of the workday, there were some verbal exchanges with Giardina, but they were cool to the point of frost. The battle lines had been drawn: Zibby was the bitch, and the other six members of the pool were firmly allied with Bowe. To think that their co-worker -- a man so likable, a friend known for his playful, caring nature -- would lie to them seemed preposterous. So when a lawyer working for Bowe showed up at the office in December 1994, presented each with an affidavit in which they swore that they had no expectation that Bowe "would purchase tickets for Florida lottery drawings on a weekly or other continuing basis on behalf of the Lottery pool," most signed.
Tensions also were mounting at home for Giardina. From the beginning of their partnership in 1988, Zibby says, she and Robin Singer -- who owns a mental-health counseling service, LifeLine, with five offices in Miami-Dade and Broward counties -- have lived in a synchrony so close that at times their thoughts overlap. "We have a joke," laughs Giardina, "that goes, Get out of my brain.'" They are both strong-willed and assertive, even controlling at times, they admit. But there are differences, too. Frankly, Singer admits, she could not have matched the equanimity Zibby brought with her each day to the office, where the legal dispute over the lottery often seemed to loom over the co-workers in the pool like an elephant in their midst, hugely present but rarely discussed. "I would have confronted the others more," says Singer, "demanding to know why they could not see the injustice here."
Robin, now 44 years old, always wanted to be a mother, and she and Giardina believed they would be good parents, so in 1993 the couple began what would turn out to be a three-year journey to conception, first by artificial insemination and later by in vitro fertilization. The process involved taking a lot of fertility drugs, lots of visits to clinics and doctors, lots of money, and a lot of hopes that rose only to be dashed. Singer had suffered several miscarriages, and the pressures of work and trying to get pregnant were only exacerbated by what was becoming the ordeal of the lottery fight.
The Lotto win brought big changes to the life of Leslie Bowe, too. With a guaranteed income of more than $850,000 per year, he started spending. He bought and leased luxury cars, bought expensive designer clothes, gave his 1994 Integra to a friend's niece, purchased a new car for his brother, and helped other pals upgrade their home-security and air-conditioning systems. And he adopted the attitude of a man for whom price tags hardly mattered. In a September 1995 deposition, Bowe was asked about a shopping trip to Bill Ussery Motors in Coral Gables, where he took possession of a pair of Mercedes-Benzes. Could he recall the price, a lawyer asked, of a 1994 Mercedes 600 SL he'd bought for his long-time live-in partner, Craig McMahon? No, answered Bowe, but he did remember that he'd written a check for the entire amount. "It doesn't mean anything to me," he said. "If that's what [Craig] wants, that's what he gets."
After paying for McMahon's car, Bowe said, he signed a lease for a Mercedes E320 for himself. Had his practice always been to be so free-spending? Bowe was asked. "Yes," he replied. "If I want it, I get it, if I can afford it."
With McMahon, a schoolteacher, Bowe also began looking for a house that would befit a career civil servant whose means could now easily finance his fantasies. In the spring of 1995, he found his castle not far from where he lived in Southwest Miami-Dade County, in Pinecrest, an upscale community of sprawling homes on spacious lots. For $600,000 he got a 6000-square-foot, lakefront home with five bedrooms and a pool. "One of the benefits of winning the Lotto is being able to enhance your quality of life, right?" he asked rhetorically, in one of several e-mail responses to questions he was asked during the reporting of this story. "We always liked the Pinecrest area. We have a lot of friends who have lived there for many years. It was an easy decision."
There were other advantages in moving to Pinecrest. Wanting to protect the area's exclusivity, residents recently had decided to incorporate, and voters were about to choose an inaugural city government. For Bowe the timing was perfect. His new home was a place where he could entertain both his political ambitions and his friends. "It's a great party house," he told a reporter after the closing.
Bowe has hosted several parties at his home in the past five years, but none quite so grand as the opulent blast he staged at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables to announce his debut as a rich man. "If you had just won the lottery, wouldn't you want to celebrate and share the occasion with those closest to you?" he says. Elegant and festive, the event seemed designed to set the tone for the extraordinary life Bowe planned to lead. That Saturday night in November 1994, dressed in a sleek black tuxedo, he welcomed several hundred guests at the door of a hotel ballroom, steered them to the open bar and a sumptuous buffet, and, once the evening was under way, he helped the DJ urge everyone on to the dance floor for a spirited, raucous attempt at a coordinated electric slide.
There were door prizes -- lottery tickets, of course -- but the highlight of the affair was the entertainment: direct from Miami Beach, the feathered female impersonator Kitty Meow and two companions who vamped and strutted around the floor as if in declaration of the host's coming out as a man both wealthy and proud. As a climax the guests stepped out on to the balcony to witness a fireworks display over the golf course that proved to be so loud and so spectacular that the Vienna Boys Choir, performing across the street at the Coral Gables Congregational Church, abandoned the stage and came out to watch.
Leslie Bowe had arrived.
Zibby, of course, wasn't invited to the party.
Nor was she invited to take part in the filming of a commercial for the lottery commission. The 30-second spot, made by the Miami firm Cooper HMS Partners, was designed to trade on Leslie's megawatt smile and his prankster nature to entice others to gamble on the happiness that only money could bring. The fast-paced commercial opened with a burst of jazzy music and a flash of color. The theme was Leslie's reputation as a joker, a playful storyteller whom no one could quite believe when he first announced what had happened. Bowe was the star, and the supporting cast included his real friends. First, Marilyn Hernandez appeared, in the back yard of Leslie's Pinecrest home: "Les is not serious at all," she said. And then Julio Alvarez chimed in: "It could be a fake phone call. I totally ignored it because he's a prankster. [But] Les won $17 million."
At one point in the spot, the camera zoomed in on a set of plastic teeth clattering away in front of Bowe's desktop nameplate. And we saw Les in the background, arms folded, composed, smiling coyly. Next he was driving his new Mercedes down the Rickenbacker Causeway, then he was riding the Metromover, and then we were in his back yard with the others again at what looked like a cookout. Happy, pleased, maybe a little smug, Les faced the camera and declared, "What I would say to doubters is, I won it once; watch me win it again.'"
How much psychic energy did Bowe invest in shaping his future? Hard to measure. But there is evidence that lottery jackpots and the fortunate metaphors they offer had long been on his mind. A search of the Miami Herald turns up this comment, made to the newspaper's Fan Hot Line in September 1988, after the University of Miami football team upset the mighty Florida State Seminoles: "Tonight's winning Lotto jackpot is the Miami Hurricanes." The caller: Leslie Bowe.
"How does one explain good luck?" says Bowe. "If you could define what causes it, more people would probably have it, right? I do believe, though, that positive thinking is a big part of it."
Bowe's parents were Bahamian immigrants who met in South Miami-Dade County, where Leslie and his brother and sister were born. His father, Freddy, made a living as a tour guide for visitors from his island homeland and spent his spare time at county commission meetings, lobbying for more neighborhood police and pressing for more affordable housing. "He lived to help others," Bowe said when his father died in August 1997. "He would give you the shirt off his back if he had to."
When Leslie decided to run for a seat on the first council of the newly formed Village of Pinecrest, he was following his father's example of involvement in community affairs. Although he did not have any political experience, he had something better: money and luck. With the money he bought signs and paid for mailings, and with luck he got as his chief opponent 65-year-old Richard Renick, a former state legislator with a well-known name who was assured by his backers that all he had to do to claim the District 3 seat was show up.
Renick admits now that he didn't give Bowe enough consideration. "I didn't know that much about the guy and only learned in the campaign that he was a lottery winner," says Renick. "All of a sudden his signs went up on every telephone pole."
Although Renick actually pulled more support in the April 1996 primary than Bowe or two other candidates, Bowe won a four-year term in the runoff with 55 percent of the vote.
While Bowe was preparing to run for office, Giardina was getting ready for trial. And if he didn't take her seriously, his attorney did. In February 1995 Bowe's attorney had sent Giardina an offer to settle the case. With it he included copies of the affidavits from other pool players, in which they had reasserted their belief that they had no right to share in the $17 million. The offer: If Zibby would sign the same waiver and drop the lawsuit, she would receive $1500. "It was insulting," she comments. "I didn't consider accepting it, even for a second."
By late September depositions were under way. Giardina recalls that she and Bowe were sitting in the Miami offices of Hardeman & Suarez, her original counsel, when Marilyn Hernandez walked in to be examined in a pretrial deposition. During a lull before the questioning began, Giardina says she watched Bowe scribble a note and slide it over to his supervisor. She read it, looked at Bowe, and they both laughed. And then he crumpled up the paper and tossed it into a nearby wastebasket.
When the proceedings ended, and Bowe and his attorney left the room, Giardina retrieved the balled-up note from the trash, and the wrinkled artifact is now included in her case file, which fills several drawers of her home-office filing cabinet. In the note Bowe had written: "This whole depo is a piece of shit and this lawyer and Zibby are out of the [sic] mind."
Giardina still fumes when she reads it. "The arrogance of the man," she says. "He thought this was an absolute joke."
At work Giardina again approached her old friend Elaine Franklin. If you're so sure you have no claim on any share of the lottery, Zibby said to Elaine, then sign over to me any future rights you may gain through the courts. Okay, said Franklin. And on December 6, 1995, Franklin signed an affidavit, prepared by Giardina and using language dictated by her new attorney, Gary Gerrard, a Coral Gables specialist in civil litigation with a reputation for taking off-the-wall cases. In that affidavit Franklin agreed to transfer her rights to any lottery winnings for the sum of $25,000. (Giardina says she has decided to ignore the agreement.)
But for a while it looked as though there might not be a trial. On December 18 Circuit Court Judge Murray Goldman had tossed it out, asserting there was no factual basis for Giardina's claims. She appealed, but it would not be until October 1996, that a Third District Court of Appeal reversed Goldman, sent it back to the judge, and ordered that a jury should decide.
At work the months leading up to the trial, scheduled for the fall of 1997, continued to be a time of isolation. In January 1997 Giardina was reassigned to an office in another building, a move she says was not exile. And she had a close encounter with Bowe only once. Going opposite ways in the parking garage, they met window-to-window on a tight turn. Their faces were inches apart. Giardina says she looked into his eyes, and Bowe looked back. And then, behind two layers of glass, he exploded with a stream of invective, gave her the finger, and drove on.
But at home something wonderful was about to happen. In an interview last month in their comfortable, spacious home in rural Davie, Singer and Giardina recalled the time leading up to the courtroom showdown with a mixture of anguish and pleasure. On a Sunday afternoon Singer sits on the floor of a spacious add-on room, a combination office/den that opens onto an old-Florida-style porch, with padded wicker chairs, softly whirring paddle fans, and a view of the grassy pasture and the tennis court beyond.
On the floor with Singer is Zoe, the couple's three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, a curly-haired inquisitive child who is trying to stay within the lines in her coloring book while fending off Rosie, the five-pound teacup long-haired Chihuahua, who wants to play, and her little brother, Jake, who just turned one and is scooting into the center of the action in a plastic walker.
Giardina is perched on the soft leather couch, fielding queries from Zoe and the reporter while tracking her reading glasses as she takes them on and off to search for a date in a case file open on the coffee table.
"With the pregnancy we were just about to give up," she says. "Robin had been through so much, so many different drugs, so many miscarriages --"
"In fact," adds Singer, "we had done the paperwork and the interviews for international adoption. That was a nightmare. And then the case -- it was so slow, with what seemed like one insurmountable problem after the next."
"Everything," recalls Giardina, "was high drama."
Singer remembers clearly: It was Labor Day 1996 when they found out she was pregnant again. After so many failures, she had decided that this was to be their last attempt, and for months they were afraid to tell even their family and friends in case of another failure. When Zoe Giardina was born May 13, 1997, the lives of Zibby and Robin changed as they do for every new parent. They couldn't get enough sleep. Movies were out. And those weekend antiquing trips to Mount Dora were history.
But there was more history to be made.
Case no. 94-21586, Silvia Giardina v. Leslie Bowe, finally came to trial on September 8, 1997, in room 6-3 of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, Judge Murray Goldman presiding. At attorney Gary Gerrard's suggestion, Giardina wore a silk suit of a neutral beige color and no jewelry save for a simple silver cross. Although still not thoroughly grounded in the legal theory of her case, she did believe one thing: that she was right.
Robin stayed home. Although Giardina and Singer are registered partners in Broward County, under Florida law Robin is not related to Zibby and therefore had no official standing in the lawsuit. Moreover Gerrard advised the couple that Singer's presence in the courtroom could potentially spark a homophobic reaction from a juror. "Not being there," says Singer, "just killed me."
Forty-eight-year-old Gerrard knew that winning this case was a long shot. The other seven members of the pool were hostile witnesses, and the judge -- who had thrown the case out, only to have it bounce back -- may not have wanted to be there either. But Gerrard had amended the complaint to include the element of fiduciary responsibility, and that was the horse he would ride.
Gerrard began by describing for the three men and three women in the jury box just how the pool had begun. He recounted the conversation between Giardina and Bowe about the responsibilities of running a pool. And then he detailed the pool's brief history: how the initial $80 yielded a winning ticket worth $55.50, and how Bowe then went on vacation for three weeks and didn't reinvest the winnings, and how Giardina scolded him about his inattention to his Lotto duties when he returned to the office during the last week of August.
The conversation Giardina and Bowe had that day would prove crucial to case. Giardina later testified that she and Bowe had agreed that since the Lotto jackpot had fallen to the minimum, about seven million dollars, they would not play that week but would wait until the purse grew larger. And when the pot shot up to $17 million the following week, Bowe played, adding 50 cents of his own money to buy the pool 56 one-dollar Quick Pick chances. And of those tickets, two were winners, worth a total of nine dollars.
The following week the jackpot rolled over again, to $34 million, and Giardina testified that she had assumed Bowe would reinvest the $9, even though she went home that Friday, September 16, without having spoken to him. But, she said, "That was the understanding: that we would play when the pot was big. And $34 million was big."
What we now know is that on Friday, Bowe had not yet bought any Lotto tickets. He did that on Saturday morning, when he drove a short distance from his house in South Miami to the Shell station at the corner of Bird and Ludlam roads. And there, while he waited in the car, itching from the chicken pox and covered in calamine lotion, his godson ran in and bought fifteen Quick Picks.
That the winning ticket was the fourteenth to come out of the machine, and not among the first nine, was of no consequence, Gerrard explained in his opening statement. "The evidence will show you, here was a joint venture," he said. "That is, a pooling of money with common interests, with a common objective in which people shared their losses and profit in. And when there is a joint venture, the person who has the money, the person who is in charge of the pool, has what is called a fiduciary duty to all of those people who are in the pool.
"He had the duty as a fiduciary to put the best interest of the pool first, and he didn't do it.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Gerrard continued, "my client trusted him, and when she gave him her ten dollars, she trusted him that he would run this pool with the same faith and confidence, and of putting the interest of the members of the pool above [himself], like she had done when she ran this pool."
Under direct examination by Gerrard, the other players described how they had participated in many lottery pools over the years. The pools were run by various people, they explained, with varying degrees of attention to any presumed rules of conduct. Players expected that winnings would be reinvested, but there might be times (when the pot was relatively low, for example) when it might not be. What seemed most clear from the testimony was that although the occasional ticket was cashed for a small prize, which was then slated for reinvestment, rarely did anyone dream about hitting a life-changing jackpot.
"There were no rules," testified Alvarez. "I don't know. You play the three dollars or the ten dollars, and if you win, you win. If not, I honestly did not pay that much attention to the pools."
"You never thought you were going to win?" asked Gerrard.
Only Elaine Franklin allowed that she had imagined a lightning strike. "We all made plans: what we would buy, where we would go," she said. "And we would all say goodbye at the same time and never --"
"And never come back?" asked Gerrard.
"-- and never come back. Pay someone to come pick up my stuff."
Under cross-examination by Bowe's lawyer, Jeffrey Tew, the players were asked if they shared Giardina's belief that they were entitled to an eighth share of Bowe's winnings.
Alvarez, saying he never considered bringing up the subject with Bowe: "Because if it was a ticket from the pool, he would have told me."
"It's just a matter of trust?" asked Tew.
"It's a matter of trust."
Asked if he still trusted Bowe, Alvarez replied, "One hundred fifty percent."
The others were just as certain of Bowe's trustworthiness and that he owed them nothing. Again, only Franklin had a dissenting opinion, indicating that she had begun to waver in her disavowal of any right to the money. Now, Franklin testified, she was sorry she had signed Bowe's affidavit, saying she had been intimidated. Asked by Gerrard if she trusted Bowe now, Franklin said no. Although she still hesitated to assert a right to a share of the prize, she clearly believed she had been cheated.
Asked if she thought there was anything wrong in Bowe's buying tickets for himself and not the pool, Franklin answered yes. "My first obligation would be to the pool," she said. "I don't know about him."
Giardina took the stand on the trial's third day. Gerrard led her through her history of running lottery pools and her discussions with Bowe about reinvesting the winnings. "My testimony is, Leslie told me on [August] 29 that he would play the tickets when the pot got bigger," she said. "I consider $34 million considerably bigger."
Finally, when Bowe came back to work, after the win, she confronted him. "And I asked him pointblank: Leslie, what happened to our nine dollars? What happened to our pool tickets?'"
"And what did he say?" Gerrard asked.
"He said no one told me to play them."
"What happened after he said no one told me to play them?"
"The conversation was very, very short. He pretty much, he couldn't ... he couldn't look me in the eyes. And he walked out of my office."
Cross-examined by Tew, Giardina insisted it didn't matter that the winning ticket was the fourteenth of the fifteen Bowe had bought that day, or that he had not cashed the nine dollars' worth of winning tickets from he previous week. "I'm saying that the order doesn't mean anything to me," she testified. "I'm saying that he owed the pool nine dollars in tickets, i.e., nine lines. And I can't tell you which nine lines. I don't think anyone can tell you which nine lines."
In his own defense, Bowe took the stand to tell jurors that he bought fifteen tickets for himself in that week's lottery because he always buys tickets, whatever the jackpot. And he didn't buy for the pool because no one in pool asked him to buy. "They could have, at any given time, the opportunity to come forward and say, Hey, Leslie, let's play our winnings in this week's drawing,'' he said. "So I didn't even, you know, think of it in any way that I should move forward on behalf of the pool."
But what about the conversation Giardina said she had with Bowe after he'd returned from vacation? "Did this conversation that Ms. Giardina testified to, that on August the 29 she talked to you about playing when it got big, did that ever happen?" Tew asked his client.
"No, it did not," Bowe answered.
The other players, Tew told the jurors, "believe the money is his, and they're not bitter about it. The only person who is trying to make a play for that share is Ms. Giardina." The jury would have to decide who was lying, he advised them. Did a conversation take place in which Bowe had agreed to play whenever the pot grew large? Zibby said yes; Bowe said no.
"After the fact," said Tew, "you can't come in and try to change the rules so that you can get something you're not entitled to."
During his questioning Gerrard had been careful to ask each of the other pool players if they had any prior understanding of fiduciary responsibility. Each answered no. That would later prove to be important and lucrative for each of them. What proved to be even more important were the jury instructions from Judge Goldman in which he explained that in Giardina's case the theory of joint venture was assumed. "A joint venture agreement need not be in writing," said the judge. "Joint venturers owed to one another, so long as the relationship continues, the duty of the finest and highest loyalty." Thus, said Goldman before sending the jurors out of the courtroom, there were just two questions to decide: First, did Bowe breach an agreement with Zibby Giardina to conduct a joint venture and carry out a fiduciary duty? And if so, had that breach caused her to suffer any damages?
The jury filed out to begin deliberations at 3:47 p.m. They were back in less than twenty minutes. Giardina was still in the courtroom, and the lawyers had not finished packing up their files when the judge returned and the bailiff published the verdict: Giardina was entitled to one-eighth of the lottery prize.
Giardina and Gerrard hugged. The judge walked by on his way out the door. "That's what good lawyering will do," Gerrard says Goldman told him. Bowe was incredulous. "I really think [the jurors] were sleeping through the trial," he said. "They just wanted to get out of there."
But jury foreman Kimberly Stadler said the jurors were paying close attention. "This guy was given this responsibility; it was his idea, and he really screwed it up," she told a reporter. "I think he really tried to screw all these people."
While Bowe prepared his appeal, Goldman sent the case to Barry Nelson, an Aventura lawyer who would serve as a special master to decide just how much money Giardina would be awarded. On the day before Christmas 1997, he announced that, based on the money Bowe already had received, he owed Giardina $426,172 for the first three years, plus $77,376 in interest. And she would receive an annual payment, of increasing amounts, for the next sixteen years, for a total of $2.1 million.
Neither Singer nor Giardina drinks. So no champagne corks flew the day in January 1998 when the first check arrived. They celebrated instead by upgrading the fixtures and choosing slate for the bathroom in the addition to the house and resurfacing the driveway.
Now, with Zibby's victory, the second thoughts loomed larger in the minds of the other six members of the pool. If Zibby was entitled to an eighth share of $17 million, they were, too. They had been duped. And now they wanted to cash in.
In the office Bowe was like a ship's captain who began to notice grumbling from below deck. He tried to calm the incipient mutiny, but the siren call of cold cash was strong. Carol Neal says Bowe called her at home. "He talked about the affidavit I had signed and mentioned jail and perjury," she recalls. "He tried to intimidate me."
But, Neal says, her mind was made up. She was entitled. Through Gerrard, she filed suit in April 1998. And then Alvarez, Menendez, Maria Hernandez, and Marilyn Hernandez called Zibby. They did not call to apologize but rather to ask her if she would set up a meeting for them with Gerrard. And she did. They all came to Zibby's house one evening, most bringing along their spouses. Gerrard explained that they all deserved a share of the lottery, no matter what Bowe said. "It was difficult for them to come to terms with the idea that Leslie had lied to them," says Gerrard. "They trusted him, and they just didn't want to believe they had been betrayed."
If the shifting alliances at work and his imperiled financial condition weighed on him, Bowe didn't show it in the office. But in January 1999, Alvarez did ask that Bowe be reassigned to another job and moved to another office. In the meantime Bowe tended to his duties as a public official. "There was a little talk in the community, but he handled it with pride," says fellow council member Cindie Blanck. "We are swamped with work on the council, but he never lost his stride." And he continued to party. In March 1999 he threw himself a gala fortieth birthday bash: dinner for friends and colleagues in the bayside cafeteria at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School on Virginia Key. There were, of course, fireworks and male strippers.
Nonetheless Bowe's legendary luck seemed to have waned. He had had to post an appeal bond of $673,000, and then in September 1998, a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeals upheld the jury's decision for Giardina. Bowe vowed to fight on. "I am willing to spend all of my money fighting this issue because I have done nothing wrong," he told reporters when he went back to court for a third and final appeal in October.
By now everyone had filed: Franklin with her own attorney, Sherry Dickman, and the others through Gerrard. Those suits were scheduled to go to trial this past February. But after hearing an oral argument from Gerrard, reading depositions, and seeing the transcript of the Giardina trial, Judge Thomas S. Wilson, Jr., said the issue already had been decided. These players, too, were in a joint venture with Bowe, and, as they testified, had no understanding of fiduciary responsibility. But they were entitled.
He ordered Bowe to pay the others a total of $4.9 million in annual payments spread out over the next fourteen years. In what served as a penalty for waiting, the other six would not receive their share of the $17 million for the first six years.
Again Bowe was livid. "It's all pure greed, and it's not looking at factual evidence," he told the Miami Herald when the decision was announced. "They're liars."
Bowe's next step was to declare that he was broke. In March he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an effort to hold on to what he had. According to documents filed in bankruptcy court, Bowe listed his assets as a heavily mortgaged $600,000 home, an annual school board salary of $46,000, and future payments of $10 million from the lottery commission. His debts include $34,000 on his credit cards; a court judgment for $4.9 million to pay the other six pool members; $487,700 in unpaid bank loans; $48,146 in lease payments on a 1999 Porsche Carrera; a defunct sporting goods business, Dugout USA, Inc.; and the rent on storage space where he had mothballed his pitching machines.
But attorneys for the other six filed a petition calling Bowe's move a "litigation tactic." Judge Robert A. Mark sent the squabbling co-workers to mediation, and there a deal was worked out. Under the terms of a confidential settlement, Bowe in June agreed to split the ten million dollars in future lottery payments with the other six pool players over the next fourteen years and drop all legal appeals. "My life needs to go on," he said tersely when asked to comment.
Legally the case is over. Everyone has profited. According to figures from the lottery commission, Alvarez, Neal, Maria Hernandez, Menendez, and Marilyn Hernandez each received a lottery commission check for about $34,000 in August, will get the same amount next August, and then will receive ever-increasing payments each August 15 after that for the next twelve years. Franklin, who used a different attorney from the others, is paid slightly varying amounts.
The big winners, of course, are the lawyers, including several employed by Bowe over the years, and Gerrard, who represented Giardina and five other players. Gerrard is now a millionaire, too. Calling himself semiretired, he has a condo on Brickell Key, a farm in Lexington, Georgia, and plenty of time for his hobby, racing Porsches. He says he takes pro bono cases and those for a fee when he can represent "the underdog or the person who's been screwed, and where there's a strong issue of justice."
Although Bowe now works in another school board office on Biscayne Boulevard, 25 blocks from the others, he still has occasion to visit the offices where they work, and they do run into one another. And when they do?
"It's like we're not there," says Giardina.
"My relationship with Zibby before and after the trial is about the same," says Bowe, "which was and is very minimal contact."
Franklin acknowledges now that she should have backed Zibby and joined her in the lawsuit six years ago. "I wish that I had had the guts to file with Zibby." But, as she told Giardina at the time, she was worried about vesting her pension and keeping peace in the office, and she was convinced that two million dollars over the next twenty years might not be enough for her retirement.
"Zibby did the right thing," says Franklin. "She did what she felt she had to do. She believed from day one that he had her money. And I give her all the credit in the world for that."
The others, too, are full of praise for Zibby and often seek her counsel. "She was very courageous," says Neal. "When I see her, I hug her, thank her."
During the long years of the lottery battle, Giardina never thought of quitting. "I think I have been tested somehow. I said I was going to do something, and I followed through, despite all the bullshit that came my way. It was difficult. But I never thought of dropping the case." (Despite her resolve to publicly pursue litigation, Zibby set limits regarding her privacy. She refused to sit for photographs to accompany this story.)
Ironically Bowe says the camaraderie he has found with his office mates is what keeps him coming to work each day. "People have said to me, Les, you really don't have to work full-time, so why have you kept your school board job all these years?' My answer is quite simple: I really and truly enjoy what I do. I work with a terrific group of people, many of whom are like my second family. Honestly, it's the truth."
Bowe also remains a busy councilman: vice mayor, former chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee, fundraising for schools in less-affluent neighborhoods, a volunteer at his alma mater, Killian High School, and an indefatigable ribbon cutter for art fairs and grand openings.
And in elections, at least, he's still lucky. This past October Bowe was to face a stiff re-election challenge from wealthy delicatessen owner Jack Kantrowitz, who had his own money to spend, as well as support from Pinecrest councilman Barry Blaxberg. But on September 7, less than a month before the election, Kantrowitz was killed in a motorcycle accident in Wyoming, where he and his wife were vacationing.
Back in Pinecrest the village attorney determined that since Bowe now had no opposition, he could be declared the victor. By default he won a second four-year term.
Everyone, it seems, has a book in mind, and each story will offer a different moral. Bowe says the one he's writing ends on a note of greed and betrayal. "The almighty dollar," he says, "is a fact of life, whether you want it to be or not."
Gerrard's tale ends this way: "The person you trusted as your friend may really be your enemy."
For Zibby the lesson is about fairness and perseverance. "It's about doing the right thing," she says.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.
- As MDX Approves $3 Million in Driver Rebates, Anti-Toll Activists Credit Public Outrage
- Wade Contract Fight: What The World Was Like When the Heat Drafted Dwyane
- U.S. and Cuba to Announce Agreement to Open Embassies