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#4415: Couple hits jackpot, love hits the skids (fwd)
Published Tuesday, June 27, 2000, in the Miami Herald
> Couple hits jackpot, love hits the skids BY ELINOR J. BRECHER
She says they once were ``lovebirds,'' then he took the money and flew
the coop. But this isn't just another round of Who Wants to Sue a Lotto
Millionaire. It involves a big-ticket winner living like he's still an
unemployed plumber; a houseful of kidnapped furniture; possible bigamy;
and a notorious lawyer. Gisleine Bertrand is suing Anilus Gomez Belhomme
in Miami-Dade Circuit Court for breach of contract and half of an $8.31
million lottery jackpot. They married in Haiti after hitting the Oct. 2,
1999, Lotto. Bertrand claims Belhomme then chose money over love,
leaving her jobless, bedless and broke. She wants $140,188 -- half of
the $280,377 that Belhomme collected last fall -- plus half of his 29
remaining payments. ``He was very nice in the beginning, believe me!''
Bertrand said during a conference call with her lawyer, Brian Hersh. It
was the only way she would talk, and she refused to be photographed.
``When we won the lottery, he changed completely. Things I wanted, he
didn't want to give me.'' Belhomme, 59, has been married at least four
times in Florida, twice to the same woman. He was single when he and
Bertrand tied the knot in their native country. His track record
notwithstanding, this is his most complicated nuptial thus far.
Bertrand, also 59, was married to, and long divorced from, the father
of her three adult sons when she met Belhomme. That's not the case with
a man she wed in Miami 14 years ago and hasn't seen since. They're still
married. The suit says Belhomme ``insisted'' Bertrand wed him anyway, in
November 1999. The couple began to ``cohabit together,'' as her suit
says, in May 1999. Bertrand left her 20-year-old, two-bedroom Cutler
Ridge home and moved into Belhomme's 45-year-old, three-bedroom house in
the 3100 block of Northwest 94th Street. Over an introductory turkey
dinner at her place, Belhomme told Bertrand's family, ``This is the
woman I've been waiting for all my life,'' according to her middle son,
Miami Police officer Robert Couseillant. ``I have it on videotape. My
wife tapes everything.''
CLAIM OF LARGESS
Bertrand was more than generous, the suit claims. After Belhomme lost
his plumbing job last July, Bertrand gave him $2,000 to visit Haiti,
$800 for floor tiles and ``generously shared'' her unemployment benefits
after she, too, lost her job as a nursing-home aide. Bertrand contends
they played the lottery weekly and picked the winning
numbers together. Belhomme drove her car to buy the ticket at Bismillah
Mobil station, 10291 NW 27th Ave. ``On Friday, I had a feeling that
something was going to happen. When he came with the results to the car,
he had a smile on his face. He gave me the ticket. He said, `Oh,
darling! Our dream has come true! You are my lucky woman!' '' When
lottery officials advised Bertrand and Belhomme that only one person
could receive payments, ``Belhomme convinced Bertrand to permit [his]
name and address to be printed on the back of the lottery ticket, with
the understanding that Bertrand would always be a one-half owner of the
winnings,'' the suit says.
Belhomme began to change in January, Bertrand lamented. He started
calling the lottery winnings ``my money'' and refused to pay her doctor
bills. Bertrand said she has eye problems. Her sons are paying her $645
mortgage. In the end, which came last month, Belhomme even kept her
furniture, the suit says. Bertrand: ``I had a $5,000 bedroom set. I had
a $500 chair, a nice vase and two consoles.'' From the look of things,
Belhomme hasn't done much spending. He still lives behind wrought-iron
gates padlocked from the inside in his 1,071-square-foot
stucco house. Tax-assessed value last year: $44,868 -- $132 less than
what he paid for it in 1981. He refinanced in February, four months
after the Lotto score. A 1986 Chevy van slumps in the front yard.
Construction materials litter the walk. Debris festers outside the gate.
When asked to discuss the lawsuit, a bare-chested Belhomme slid out
from behind the front door and growled: ``Talk to my lawyer.''
As of yesterday, court records showed he didn't have one. Served with
the suit June 10, he must respond by Friday. Bertrand has lawyer Hersh,
famous for prying child support out of comic Jackie Mason for his
out-of-wedlock daughter's mom. Also infamous, thanks to the Third
District Court of Appeals, which derided his ``silver tongued efforts''
to charge a client $20,000 on a $10,000 case. In his latest Florida Bar
complaint, a $325-an-hour divorce client last year accused Hersh of
``screaming and yelling'' and overbilling. As with all previous
complaints, the Bar closed it without disciplining him.
Hersh has trod this ground before, but from the opposite direction. He
represented Bernice Heslop, 55, of North Miami, who hit a $28.5 million
jackpot Nov. 25, 1995. She lay low for three months, until her divorce
from estranged husband Ernest Moore was final. Moore found out two years
later, when someone told him of having overheard a barroom conversation
about a woman who had won the lottery, then put one over on her ex. In
April 1999, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Carol Gersten ruled for Moore. ``No
comparison'' between the cases, Hersh declared. Heslop's involved a
He's convinced that Bertrand is a sure winner: ``Good enough for me to
take on contingency.'' Still, Bertrand could have bigger problems than
anything this lawsuit alleges. County records show Bertrand married
Pierre Sajous on June 4, 1986. She said he walked out of her life two
days later. Couseillant and Hersh said they tried to find him.
``I've heard he's in the Bahamas, or Haiti,'' Couseillant said.
In fact, Sajous, 55, is in South Florida, living with his girlfriend
and their two children 30 blocks south of Belhomme. He has worked for
the Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation Department
since 1981, based now at the Caleb Center on Northwest 54th Street. He
seemed more confused than surprised by all this. ``I'm clean here!'' he
He said he married Bertrand to get legal residence. He said she told
him, ``I'll marry you for that.'' He said the arrangement lasted five
months, then he split because she expected him to support her sons.
``I have 11 children in Haiti!'' Sajous protested. ``I was thinking to
divorce her last week.'' Although his groundskeeping job pays about
$24,000 a year, Sajous said he wants nothing from Bertrand. Still, he
may be entitled to some of the winnings, according to attorney Elizabeth
Baker, who successfully represented a Miami woman in a $10 million
lottery-and-divorce case. ``Sounds like a law-school exam,'' she
chuckled. If Bertrand prevails, her slice of the $8.31 million becomes
marital property, Baker said. ``It doesn't sound fair,'' but the court
could cut Sajous in for a piece of the action. Not likely, Hersh said.
The marriage was too short and the estrangement too long. Bertrand and
Belhomme's marriage? ``Invalid,'' Baker said. Why? Because she was still
legally married to Sajous, in both the United States and Haiti, which
recognize each other's official documents. In any case, Hersh said, ``I
don't think many [South Florida] prosecutors would be interested in
pressing bigamy charges.''