When Michael E. Rogers won $3 million in the Maryland lottery and made headlines by publicly donating thousands of dollars to feed the hungry, it came as a surprise to his ex-wife. She thinks charity should begin at home.
It turned out that Mr. Rogers owed more than $8,000 in court-ordered child support and medical expenses for his three children in West Virginia.
Deborah L. Rogers, who gets food stamps to augment the $200 a week she makes working the night shift in a nursing home, says her ex-husband still hasn't paid up, even though West Virginia courts, like other courts before them, have ordered Mr. Rogers to pay -- and make larger payments in the future.
He faces a contempt of court hearing next month, and Maryland officials are trying to figure out how Mr. Rogers slipped through the cracks in a system that is supposed to flag the names of lottery winners who owe back child support.
The struggle began shortly after Mr. Rodgers, 39, of Sparrows Point, won a $3 million Lotto jackpot April 10. A heavy equipment operator for C. J. Langenfelder & Son Inc., Mr. Rogers was out of work for six months last year after his fifth back operation.
Less than two weeks after he won, Mr. Rogers and his current wife, Carolyn, announced that they were donating $5,000 to help East Baltimore soup kitchen operator Bea Gaddy feed the hungry.
"These people [the hungry and homeless] were families at one time, and a lot of them are in a place they never thought they'd be," Mr. Rogers said in an April interview. "We just thought the good Lord said, 'This is your blessing; see what you can do with it.' "
Deborah Rogers, who is supporting their three children, now 17, 16 and 14, said she was "aggravated" and "dumbfounded" by the portrait of a generous man in the article she read.
She called a lawyer and went to court. As a result of Mr. Rogers' new wealth, the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, W.Va., ordered in June that his support payments increase from $300 a month to $1,559.60, according to court papers.
The court also ordered Mr. Rogers to pay his his ex-wife $4,500 in back child support and to reimburse her for $4,250 for medical expenses they were supposed to split under the terms of their divorce in 1982.
"He's got 'back problems.' He's had 'back surgery.' He's been dodging the system," said Deborah Rogers' attorney, John R. Angotti of Morgantown, W.Va. "And bam, he hits pay dirt."
Mr. Rogers has ignored the new court order as he did previous ones, Mr. Angotti said. "She works nights, works at a nursing home, works hard," the attorney said.
Only a few payments have trickled in over the years, largely as a result of attached wages and disability payments that were intercepted by government agencies, Mr. Angotti said.
Contempt hearing set
In August, Mrs. Rogers received $900 from her ex-husband, apparently for three months at the old rate. Mr. Rogers has been ordered to appear at a contempt of court hearing in West Virginia on Nov. 24.
A call to a telephone number provided by Deborah Rogers and Mr. Angotti reached a man who answered and said, "This is Mike Rogers" but denied knowing Deborah Rogers.
"There must be another Michael Rogers," the man said before hanging up. "I don't know her. There are several of us down here" in Sparrows Point.
The phone number came from call records on Deborah Rogers' phone bill. The calls were made when Mr. Rogers' eldest daughter began calling her father back in November 1992 in an attempt to re-establish ties with him.
Deborah Rogers and Mr. Angotti also provided Mr. Rogers' Social Security number, his address, photographs and signatures from registered-mail deliveries to the lottery winner's address. He gave a copy of the article in The Sun to the daughter, they said.
Independent sources also confirmed that the lottery winner is Deborah Rogers' ex-husband.
Contacted again yesterday, Mr. Rogers referred a reporter to his lawyer, who did not return the reporter's call.
Officials in West Virginia and Maryland said they don't know why the outstanding obligation wasn't noticed.
Social services officials said they couldn't even acknowledge having the case, citing privacy laws.
But John B. Brooks, legal assistant for the Monongalia County Child Advocate Office, agreed to speak generally about interstate cooperation under the Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement Support Act (URESA).
"All the states are different, and the civil law is different from state to state -- not like the criminal law," he said. "Basically, you send a form to where the father lives to establish child support."
"If I found out about [a lottery winner], I would investigate," Mr. Brooks said. "But it's just not something that happens every day. I wish it would."
Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said that if the lottery agency has notification of a court-ordered support agreement -- as it apparently should have had in the Rogers case -- the payouts are intercepted.
"The lottery has collected over $1.1 million in child support [between] September 1988 and September 1993 through lottery withholding," Mr. Curran said.
But he added, "There may well be thousands of Social Security numbers that are supposed to be in there and [are] not identified yet."
Assistant Attorney General Romaine N. Williams, who has represented the lottery agency, said the agency isn't allowed to pay anyone but the winner except in certain cases such as child support.
"If they had it in the computer," she said, "they would take it just like they can take federal or state income taxes -- right away, no question."
But if the nonpayment record isn't in the lottery's files, she said, the spouse who is supposed to receive the money must get a court order directed to lottery officials, who would intercept the next payment in 1994.
A missing name
In "99.9 percent of cases" in which a URESA order has been issued, the number should be on file, said Assistant Attorney General Joseph B. Spillman Jr., who represents the Maryland Department of Human Resources.
Mr. Spillman also was precluded from discussing specific cases, but he did say that "these names are supposed to be on the list."
Caseworkers might have thought the case had been closed for lack of activity, he said, but that "wouldn't have affected [Mr. Rogers'] obligation."
"What should have happened in the ideal world is they should have grabbed at least the back amount from his first check," Mr. Spillman said.
"We're willing to do whatever we can do to help, but there's really nothing the lottery can do without a court order."