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Elderly sisters battle over $500,000 jackpot

An 84-year-old woman battling with her 87-year-old sister for a share of a $500,000 lottery jackpot testifies that the two signed a contract to split gambling winnings.
Rose Bakaysa sits in the courtroom listening to her sister's testimony on Tuesday in New Britain, Conn.
Rose Bakaysa sits in the courtroom listening to her sister's testimony on Tuesday in New Britain, Conn.Stephen Dunn / The Hartford Courant via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Among the nine siblings in their family, Rose Bakaysa and her younger sister Theresa Sokaitis always shared a special bond.

As they hit their 70s and 80s, their dream of jackpot riches became a centerpiece of that connection, fueling regular road trips to Foxwoods Resort Casino and countless lottery tickets that yielded a few bucks here and there, but no major money.

When Bakaysa and their brother won a $500,000 Powerball jackpot in 2005, it would seem the sisters' dreams finally had come true. But the windfall is now at the center of a lawsuit pitting them against each other. The elderly sisters, who haven't spoken since Sokaitis sued Bakaysa in 2005, faced each other Tuesday in New Britain Superior Court.

Sokaitis, 84, says Bakaysa, 87, violated a notarized contract they signed almost a decade earlier to split all future winnings.

Bakaysa says Sokaitis broke off the deal during a 2004 fight over a few hundred dollars. Sokaitis acknowledges they had a tiff, but believes the contract was still in place.

"I love my sister. There was no reason not to be partners," Sokaitis, a Middletown resident, testified Tuesday.

Sokaitis said Bakaysa often helped her pay rent while she was raising her six children, helped her get back her car when it was repossessed and paid for one of her daughters' Catholic school tuition.

Bakaysa testified Tuesday that the end of their partnership came in a 2004 fight, not long after Bakaysa stayed with Sokaitis for a few weeks while recovering from heart surgery.

"She was shouting, 'I don't want to be your partner anymore.' I said all right, that was it, I tore up my contract," Bakaysa testified, sitting about 25 feet from Sokaitis as her sister hung her cane on the courtroom railing.

$165,000 win led to pact
The contract had its roots in an earlier win: a $165,000 haul that Sokaitis won playing poker at Foxwoods in 1995 while her sister was playing slots nearby. Sokaitis testified she intended to split it evenly with Bakaysa and gave her about $64,000 of it in payments over time, with about $18,000 still unpaid at the time of their rift.

In 2004, a few hundred dollars came between the women.

Bakaysa said she had loaned $250 to Sokaitis and was rebuffed when she asked for the repayment. She said she reached her boiling point after years of handing over money to her sister that was never returned.

Sokaitis said it was $100, not $250, but that she sent a $200 check just to settle the matter, knowing there was tension but not believing it was the end of their relationship.

Shortly after that, Bakaysa said she and her brother Joseph Troy Sr. started gambling together. About a year later, a ticket he purchased using Bakaysa's numbers won $500,000.

Bakaysa gave $10,000 of her share to Sokaitis' daughter. When Sokaitis learned of it, she called her sister.

"I told her I felt I deserved a share of the money and she told me I wasn't going to get a dime," Sokaitis testified. "I said, 'I have a contract.' She said, 'I tore mine up.' I said, 'I didn't.'"

Bakaysa said that since Troy bought the ticket, she couldn't have split it with her sister even if she wanted to.

"I was tired of giving her money. I gave her money for everything," Bakaysa testified.

Troy, who was once sued by Sokaitis over $2,000 she had loaned to him for gambling expenses, testified Tuesday on Bakaysa's behalf.

A judge had dismissed Sokaitis' lawsuit under a Connecticut law that makes gambling contracts illegal. But the state Supreme Court, in a ruling that took effect in August, said the sisters' agreement wasn't covered by that law because it involves legal activities. It said the case could go to trial.

New Britain Superior Court Judge Cynthia K. Swienton, who heard the case Tuesday, said she expects to issue her ruling in the next few months.