Waffle House Waitress Gets Tipped Winning Lottery Ticket, Then Chaos Ensues
It all started at a Waffle House in Green Bay, Alabama in 1999. Here, our main protagonist of this true story, Tonda Dickerson, was working as a waitress at the Waffle House in question. A regular at the restaurant, Edward Seward often tipped the staff with lottery tickets.
On March 7th, he gave Tonda and four other employees lotto ticket tips. The next week, everything changed when Tonda won $10 million from her unusual tip. However, there wasn’t much time to celebrate when Tonda’s win quickly spiraled into a wild story full of lawsuits, IRS battles, and even a kidnapping. Let’s dive in!
No Time to Enjoy The $10 Million Jackpot
Although divorced in her late 20s and reportedly desperate for a change, Tonda Dickerson apparently didn’t have much time to enjoy the $10 million that came from a winning lottery ticket left as a tip by Edward Seward. While the lottery ticket she received on March 7th certainly changed her life, the happy news surely didn’t last.
While Tonda’s tale has many twists and turns, this type of story isn’t uncommon. In fact, many people who win the lottery end up dealing with challenging side effects as distant family and friends want a piece of the prize. Some of these situations end in lawsuits, others end with violent altercations, and a select few winners end up in witness protection.
Dickerson's Co-Workers File A Lawsuit
The Supreme Court of Alabama’s case records from February 2000 indicate that Waffle House co-workers Sandra Deno, Angie Tisdale, Matthew Adams, and Jackie Fairleyand claimed they had an “oral agreement” with Dickerson about any potential lottery ticket winnings.
Each one said that Tonda Dickerson would share the $10 million winnings with them, and that Dickerson did not hold up to her end of the agreement. After all, each employee working that shift that day received lottery tickets. Any one of them could have been a winner, and Dickerson’s co-workers were feeling slighted that through chance, Tonda received the lucky ticket. Would Tonda have to share her winnings?
Dickerson Testifies And Awaits A Ruling
Tonda was originally questioned casually in her father’s home in Green Bay. About two weeks later, on Monday, April 19, 1999, Tonda Dickerson testified in front of an Alabama jury. During this session, Circuit Judge Robert Kendall ordered Dickerson to share her $10 million winnings with her four co-workers, Deno, Tisdale, Adams, and Fairleyand.
Judge Kendall awarded participating attorneys several days to determine how the four plaintiffs and Dickerson would share the lottery proceeds. Upon trial conclusion, Dickerson reportedly left the courtroom in a hurry without any response to reporters’ questions.
Two Waffle House Employees Enjoy Momentary Victory
Sandra Deno appears to the left in the photo below, and Angela Tisdale appears on the right. They represent two of the four Alabama Waffle House co-workers who appeared in court against Dickerson in April 1999.
Matthew Adams and Jackie Fairleyand seem to have not made themselves readily available for picture taking before, during, or after the trial. Here, Deno and Tisdale rejoice in their momentary victory, but the court battle between the plaintiffs and the defendant were far from over.
Miscommunication, Lies, and Lawsuits
Concerning Bayou La Batre resident Edward Seward, Jr., who tipped the lottery ticket at the Waffle House, several reports confirmed that all he wanted from an employee winning a lottery ticket was a pickup truck from those proceeds.
He also says that he “expected the restaurant employees to share any winnings,” according to the Associated Press. Although seemingly reluctant to have his picture taken, co-worker Matthew Adams does say, “It was always stated that if we hit, we split.” That’s what he told the jury during trial.
Court Dismisses Edward Seward's Claim
Despite Seward making it known that he only wanted a pickup truck, the court’s verdict did not go his way. In 2002, three years after the ticket won, Seward attempted to sue in order to collect the pickup truck he claimed the Waffle House employees promised him if a ticket ever won.
The court denied hearing Seward’s case altogether. Essentially his case boiled down to “hearsay” and verbal agreements that couldn’t have been proven one way or another. There is actually an Alabama law against oral agreements when it comes to gambling, and thus Seward had no grounds for a lawsuit. However, the original lawsuit from the Waffle House staff was about to come back into play.
Court Overturns The 2000 Verdict
In 2002, two years after the original verdict, the staff’s case saw the light once again. Even though the judge initially ruled in favor of the four co-workers who filed a lawsuit against Dickerson, the defendant did present arguments that the court said they agreed with.
The Alabama court later overturned the verdict in 2000 based on arguments that the verbal agreement between Dickerson and the plaintiffs renders void on the grounds that it violated the state’s gambling laws. While Tonda seemingly won this time as she no longer owed her co-workers money, more complications yet ensued, none of which Dickerson, her former co-workers, or Seward Jr. would have predicted.
The Dickerson Family Starts A Corporation With The Money
No one, not even Dickerson’s dad, probably could have anticipated what would take place after the initial lottery winning announcement in March of 1999. However, the family must have prepared at least a little because they later decided to set up a corporation with the money Tonda won.
Upon setting up a business, it complicated tracing the money back to a pact that Tonda’s former co-workers claim they made with her to split any lotto winnings. This provided a way for the Dickerson family to say that the revenue originated from a business rather than the original lottery proceedings. This was a seemingly smart move to keep the money protected, but Tonda also came to realize she needed to keep herself protected too.
The Unexpected Kidnapping
The height of Tonda’s troubles probably climaxed when Stacy Martin, her ex-husband tried to kidnap her after she won the lottery money. Their divorce was finalized in 1997, two full years prior to Tonda winning the lottery. Yet, in 2002 Stacy Martin showed back up in Tonda’s life.
While reportedly holding Tonda hostage in her own truck, Stacy drove his ex to an isolated boat launch in Jackson County where he threatened her life in exchange for some money. However, Tonda managed to quickly reach into her purse, pull out a gun and shoot her ex-husband in the chest in self-defense. She then took him to the hospital where the police arrived on scene, yet no charges appear to be on record for either party. Her ex-husband survived the altercation.
Enter The IRS To Cause More Trouble
Ten years after the kidnapping, the IRS pops up to cause more headaches. Setting up a corporation after winning $10 million didn’t negate the fact that the original sum did come from a lottery ticket. Most states have their own rules about what they consider legal and illegal gambling. Unfortunately, the IRS caught up with Dickerson by 2012.
In 2012, the Court ordered Tonda Dickerson to pay more than a million dollars in taxes to the IRS from lottery ticket winnings. Since she placed her money into a corporation and gave her family 51% of the stock in this company, she was required to pay a gift tax of $1,119,347.90. Tonda challenged the charge, but ultimately lost and had to pay the over one million dollar fee.
What Became of Tonda Dickerson?
So, what became of the former Waffle House waitress? Well, after a turbulent roller coaster ride of legal trouble and threatening situations, Tonda ended up legally not owing a dime to anyone. Her co-workers who wanted a share of the prize were left with nothing after their lawsuit was overturned. Edward Seward who gave the lottery ticket didn’t have a legal case and Tonda never gave him the pickup truck he wanted.
Her ex-husband, Stacy Martin recovered from his gunshot wound and according to legal records was never charged for the kidnapping. As for Tonda, instead of sharing her wealth with her Waffle House community, she put the majority of her money into a corporation titled “9 Mill” and gave 51% of the shares to her family members. In the end she had to pay the IRS a $1,119,347.90 tax gift, but other than that Tonda is trying to disappear into the background and return to a “normal” life.