Observations Vol. XL

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By Chris Cosci

When you return to work after being sick, there tends to be a lot of things waiting for you. You may have dozens of unread e-mail messages to sort through. You may need to return a lot of phone calls. And sometimes, you may return to an angry mob of coworkers who are all after you because they think you owe them millions of dollars. This was the case for Angelito Marquez, the nursing-home nurse who was accused of hoarding a winning lottery ticket worth over $59 million.

Marquez was one of twenty workers at the Newark Health and Extended Care Facility who pooled their money together to buy tickets for the $331 million, April 16 Big Game Lottery drawing. Marquez was put in charge of buying the tickets. After buying the tickets, fate stepped in and gave Marquez the flu. After the winning numbers were announced, the nursing-home crowd became suspicious as to why Marquez wasn't showing up for work.

Instead of waiting for Marquez's illness to pass, the workers came up with a better plan - they hired a lawyer. The lawyer contacted the New Jersey Lottery Commission, claiming that Marquez used his coworkers' money to buy the winning ticket and then decided not to share the wealth. On that same day, Lottery officials received another claim from three lawyers representing the winning ticket holder. They produced the winning ticket, which was declared valid, but they refused to disclose their client's name. Ah, the U.S. legal system - always hard at work.

Within a few short days, things took a strange turn. It started when Marquez, who quickly became one of the most hated men in America, told reporters that he didn't have the winning ticket. Amazingly, nobody believed him. Then, in a you-could-never-script-it-any-better surprise twist, it was announced that someone else claimed the winning ticket. Marquez was telling the truth after all. He never did buy the winning ticket.

So, what went wrong? Oh, if there were only one answer to this question...

Let's start with the nursing-home employees. With no proof, no evidence, and no real case for themselves, they hired a lawyer to attack their coworker. Somehow, they must have trusted Marquez enough in the first place to give him a lot of money to buy lottery tickets. Then, when he calls in sick, they think he's lying. How does that happen? Their trust just disappeared. On top of that, their accusation was based on an assumption.

What about the lawyers for the actual winner, Jorge Lopes? When they contacted Lottery officials as the lawyers for the winning ticket holder, they wouldn't claim whether or not Marquez was their client. All they had to do was say, "our client does not wish to reveal himself at this time, but we can tell you that it's not Angelito Marquez." Think of how much frustration this would have saved. Instead, they said nothing and let the workers, their lawyer, and the media blow the story out of proportion.

That brings us to the media. Leave it to reporters to print stories before getting their facts straight. The reason so many people were mad at Marquez was because the media was reporting the story as if Marquez definitely held the winning ticket. They based all of their stories on the same assumptions the nursing-home employees were using. Marquez never officially claimed the winning ticket, and he was probably the most honest person of them all.

In the end, justice was served. Marquez quietly went back to work. After all of their complaining, his coworkers hung their heads as they found out their actual winnings were a meager two dollars. And the media has shifted their focus on the real winners. So, the question remains, did anybody learn anything from this experience? Probably not.