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The $78 million ticket: An elderly Paso Robles resident is stuck in the middle of a legal tug-of-war over his lotto fortune 

Janice Watson was entering the Albertsons in Paso Robles to run a routine errand on Nov. 3, 2011, when an old man approached her and whispered that he had something to tell her.

His name was Charles Hairston.

The then 82-year-old Army veteran was a familiar face for Watson. She'd known him for many years, running into him around town at the post office or convenience stores. Watson said Hairston knew her father, and the two often sat outside Cregor's Liquor and Deli talking about their military service, politics, and sports.

But that day, the conversation with Hairston was far from ordinary, according to a written declaration signed by Watson and submitted to SLO County Superior Court in November.

"I won the 78-million-dollar lottery baby!" Hairston reportedly told Watson at the time. "I'm serious as a heart attack."

Before they parted, Watson said she asked Hairston what he planned to do with all the money he'd just won.

"He said he was going to go to Vegas, buy an Escalade, take care of his son Eddie, and just keep on living," Watson wrote.

Less than five years later Watson stood outside a modest-looking home on Shadow Creek Drive. The entrance was blocked by a security gate. Watson said she looked into a security camera as she rang the bell multiple times.

"There was no answer, but I saw movement in the residence, and a glimpse of a body through the blinds," Watson stated.

Watson isn't alone. Several people who said they were close friends of Hairston's claim they've had similar experiences, saying they've been turned away or cut off from contact with the man they describe as friendly and generous.

They lay the blame at the feet of an unlicensed caregiver who currently has power of attorney over Hairston's medical care and finances, claiming she has isolated and taken advantage of the now 88-year-old multi-millionaire—buying a home, cars, and other luxuries for herself and her family.

But she and others claim that those friends and family were excised from Hairston's life for attempting to exploit his wealth and generosity for their own financial gain.

Today, Hairston is stuck at the center of a legal tug-of-war between the two groups. The man who claims to be his son is asking the court system to award control of Hairston's medical care and finances, including his lottery winnings, either to himself or a third party.

Yet, through all the accusations, acrimony, and drama that are playing out in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court, the figure at the center of it all has remained utterly silent.

click to enlarge WINNING BIG Paso Robles resident Charles Hairston purchased his winning lotto ticket at this convenience store in 2011. Six years later, Hairston is wrapped up in a legal battle to determine who will be in charge of his care and finances. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • WINNING BIG Paso Robles resident Charles Hairston purchased his winning lotto ticket at this convenience store in 2011. Six years later, Hairston is wrapped up in a legal battle to determine who will be in charge of his care and finances.

Isolated

Much of what is known about Hairston's life before his big win comes from a short press release issued by the California Lottery. It stated that Hairston was a retired welder who served in the Army during the Korean War. He'd been playing the lottery since 1985. Hairston was quoted as saying that winning the MEGA Millions jack pot was "pretty nice" and that he stayed home and "took it easy" on the night he found out he won.

According to a written declaration from Paso Robles resident Ronald Simon that was submitted as part of the legal case, Hairston was far more enthusiastic when he relayed the news to him over the phone.

"I told you I was going to hit it," Hairston reportedly told him. At first, Simon said he wasn't surprised. Hairston enjoyed gambling and would spend hundreds of dollars buying whole rolls of Scratchers tickets or playing games at a casino in Lemoore.

"I thought he was being overly enthusiastic ... at that point he told me he had won $78 million," Simon said. "After taking a second to calm myself, I told Chuck not to tell anyone."

Simon said he'd known Hairston since 2004. Even after the win, Simon continued to hang out every week with Hairston, who would usually enjoy a cocktail of Cutty Sark Scotch whisky blended with milk.

But Simon said that in the years that followed, Hairston's health and faculties began to deteriorate. In June of 2014, Simon said he got a panicked call from Hairston who asked to be taken to the ER. He arrived to find Hairston in khaki pants, socks, and no shirt. Simon said he drove Hairston to a Veterans Affairs Hospital in Fresno.

"The doctors there said he was dehydrated," Simon said.

In another written declaration, Hairston's former neighbor, Melynda Weide, said she saw Hairston's home become cluttered and dirty as his health continued to worsen. In the spring of 2014, Weide said her husband, Kurt, was in their backyard when he heard Hairston calling for help within his home. Hairston's doors were locked, so Weide said her husband had to break a window to get in the home. Once inside, he found Hairston half-naked on the floor.

"After helping Chuck get up and [helping] dress him, Kurt found that Chuck had been laying there all night," Weide said.

Watson noted similar experiences during the same time period, when she says Hairston would often call on her and her husband to come over to his home to help him with domestic tasks or to watch hours of WWE professional wrestling, which he ordered via Pay-Per-View. Watson said the home would frequently be dirty, with dishes in the sink and smelling of garbage (mostly fast food wrappers) that hadn't been taken out.

The situation was all the more baffling for Watson, Simon, and Weide because Hairston already had someone who was supposedly looking after him.

Beginning in 2012, Hairston enlisted a woman named Tiffany Borba, who he reportedly met at the now-defunct Scolari's supermarket, to be his caregiver. When he was introduced to her in May of that year, Simon knew little about the woman, who didn't have formal training or licensure as a nurse or home health aid in the state of California.

" ... Chuck told me she was going to take care of him from then on," Simon said.

In the written statement, Simon questioned Borba's commitment to caring for his longtime friend, claiming that Hairston's medication prescriptions would routinely go unfilled, that he'd be left without food, and that she would ignore his phone calls to her when he needed help.

The Watsons and Weide made similar comments in their written declarations.

"It appeared to me that [Hairston] was no longer able to manage his affairs, and that Tiffany was doing a terrible job, if indeed that's what she was supposed to be doing, and taking advantage of him," Watson wrote.

Despite their protests, Hairston stuck with Borba, and she became a beneficiary of his generosity. Legal records showed that he gifted Borba a $819,000 home in Paso in March of 2015. At the same time he also purchased a Shadow Creek home for himself for $409,000.

click to enlarge LAP OF LUXURY Multi-millionaire lotto winner Charles Hairston gifted this $819,000 home and a 2016 Porsche to Tiffany Borba, an unlicensed caregiver who now has power of attorney over his finances and medical care. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • LAP OF LUXURY Multi-millionaire lotto winner Charles Hairston gifted this $819,000 home and a 2016 Porsche to Tiffany Borba, an unlicensed caregiver who now has power of attorney over his finances and medical care.

In 2016, he bought Borba a Porsche Cayman. In a written declaration, Watson's husband, Lonnie, included photos from outside Borba's home showing the driveway and adjoining sidewalk packed with vehicles, including three Ford Mustangs and an Explorer XLT with license plates like "BORBAGT" and "ICYUMAD."

In December 2015, documents showed that Hairston signed over power of attorney for both his finances and medical care to Borba, giving her the power to control both his money and his well-being.

"It is obvious that Borba is using her alleged power of attorney status, taking advantage of the fact that Chuck has dementia/Alzheimer's disease, and had manipulated him to gain access to his money and alienate his friends," Lonnie wrote in his declaration.

According to Simon, Weide, and the Watsons, Borba not only took control of Hairston's care and finances, but also began to isolate him from them, pushing them out of his life.

Weide said she stopped by Hairston's new home to visit him shortly after his move, only to find that the entrance was gated off. After that, she stopped trying to see him in person. She tried to call him, but the number had been changed. Watson said she had a similar experience, as did Simon, who said he called Hairston in March of 2015 and was asked to leave a message with one of Hairston's caregivers.

"Tiffany called me back and told me Chuck never wanted to see me or hear me again, because I 'intimidated' him," Simon wrote. "I never spoke to Chuck again."

It wasn't just old friends that Borba was allegedly shutting out of Hairston's life. Eddie Hairston, Hairston's nephew, said the last time he spoke with Hairston was in November 2015. Eddie blames Borba for "completely shutting" him off from his uncle, even sending him a legal cease and desist letter in December of the same year.

According to Eddie's written declaration, he's not Hairston's nephew but his biological son. He claimed that Hairston told him this later in his life, and declarations from Watson, Simon, and even the woman who sold Hairston the winning ticket all stated that, at one time or another, Hairston had mentioned that Eddie was his son. In his declaration, Eddie said he attempted to have a private investigator test his DNA to confirm the paternity, but the investigator turned out to be a scam artist.

Disturbed by his alleged father's failing health and Borba's increasing control over his life, Eddie filed for conservatorship over Hairston, his medical care, and his money in November 2017.

"This gradual isolation is why I wanted to be appointed conservator, because I believe Chuck is no longer able to stand up for himself to Tiffany Borba, and she is isolating him from his friends and family in an attempt to have exclusive access to his money," Eddie wrote.

The Wastons, the Weides, and Simon, appeared to back Eddie's efforts, all filing declarations in support of his legal bid.

"I am supporting Eddie in his attempt for conservatorship, because I just want to talk to my old friend again and either spend time with him, or figure out if he actually wants not to talk to me any longer," Simon wrote.

But while Simon, Eddie, and others claim that Hairston is being isolated against his will and manipulated by Borba, there is always another side to a story. There's certainly one in this case; a side that calls into question all the worried, well meaning motives of the people attempting to wrest control of Hairston's life and fortune from Borba.

The other side of the story

After his big lottery win, Hairston wasn't stingy with his money. That generosity was extended not only to Borba, but to several of his family and friends, according to Ronald Chaisson, an officer with Rabobank in charge of managing Hairston's trust.

"In my review of the file, I see that [Hairston] has made regular annual gifts within the exclusion amount to as many as 15 people per year since 2011," Chaisson stated in his written declaration to the court.

Chaisson said that included paying off Eddie's mortgage at an estimated price tag of $358,000.

Alleged arguments over gifts to Eddie and his wife were at the center of Borba's defense against the accusations leveled at her. According to her written declaration, Borba said that Hairston gave generously to Eddie and his wife, with numerous cash gifts of $5,000 to $10,000 each, even paying for airfare and car rental when the couple would fly out from Colorado to visit him. Borba alleged that the two received gifts in excess of half a million dollars.

Still, Borba said that Eddie's all-expenses paid visits to Hairston often ended in arguments and Eddie leaving days ahead of schedule. The tension came to a head during one visit in November 2015. Borba claims that Hairston became upset after Eddie and his wife asked for $1 million. When Hairston turned them down, stating that $500,000 was more appropriate, Borba said the pair became upset.

"The visit ultimately ended with Charles asking them to leave, with Eddie's wife losing control, screaming at Charles, and saying extremely disrespectful things," she wrote. "A few hours later they left, but not before Eddie's wife threatened me and called Charles 'an old fool.'"

Borba said the confrontation solidified concerns Hairston had been having about Eddie for months. Less than a month after the alleged argument, Hairston went to his lawyers and revoked Eddie's authority as agent under his power of attorney, signing it over to Borba instead. He said he no longer felt comfortable with Eddie handling his affairs. Paul Clark, the attorney who helped Hairston set up the trust to manage his winnings, said Hairston made similar comments in his presence.

"I was informed by Mr. Hairston that after having won the lottery, he did pay off substantial debts on Eddie's behalf and made other gifts to him," Clark wrote. "Toward the end of my representation, Mr. Hairston expressed suspicion towards Eddie and his wife regarding their motivations."

In fact, Chaisson claimed that the gate and security camera that now adorn Hairston's home were put up because of his distrust of Eddie.

"In regard to the gate, Mr. Hairston advised trust officer Rhonda Garris that he wanted the gate installed to keep Eddie out," Chaisson said.

Clark and other individuals who wrote declarations in favor of Borba raised doubts about Eddie's claims that he was Hairston's son. Clark's declaration stated that he never heard the man refer to Eddie as anything other than his nephew.

Another one of Hairston's nephews, Kevin Wright, filed a written declaration in support of Borba, claiming that he'd never been prevented from visiting his uncle and accusing Eddie of going behind the Hairston family's back by pursuing the conservatorship.

"No family members support his actions," Wright wrote.

According to Borba's version of events, Eddie wasn't the only person Hairston had grown suspicious of since his big win.

Take Simon, the longtime friend who claimed Borba shut him out of Hairston's life with little explanation. Borba claimed that Hairston grew suspicious of Simon after the two returned from a casino trip, and Hairston discovered that he was missing $20,000 in cash from a bag he'd brought.

Borba said that it was also Hairston's decision to shut out other friends like the Watsons. She said he believed they were acting as "affiliates" or "surrogates" for Eddie, and were attempting to get Hairston to change his mind about his nephew.

The security gate, the camera, limiting contact with visitors: Borba said it was all done at Hairston's behest.

"Charles was uncomfortable with the high volume of people who would just drop in unannounced, and was concerned about security because so many people knew of his wealth," Borba wrote. "Charles wanted control over those who would visit him, as there were too many people more interested in his money than him personally."

In her declaration, Borba pushed back on claims that Hairston wasn't being properly cared for. She stated that she's arranged for his home care on a clinical level. That care plan includes care by licensed vocational nurses (LVN) and certified nursing assistants (CNA) who provide support and care 24 hours a day.

"There is nothing Mr. Hairston lacks for in his care," Rosalyn Myers, a private LVN who works with Hairston, said in her written declaration to the court.

Borba also denied allegations that she mistreated Hairston, stating that she never coerced, abused, or even raised her voice to him. William Dwyer, a man who says he's been friends with Hairston since 1990, backed Borba up in his declaration, stating that he's never been denied access to Hairston or seen Borba mistreat him.

"Charles has told me personally that Tiffany Borba 'is the best thing that ever happened to me,'" Dwyer wrote.

But a court filing by Eddie's lawyer, Atascadero-based Attorney Glen Lewis, cast doubt on the individuals supporting Borba's claims, arguing that they either received gifts from Hairston or are essentially working for Borba, who has power of attorney over Hairston's finances. In his court filing, Lewis also pointed out one glaring omission from the declarations submitted by Borba and those who sided with her.

" ... Charles Hairston is not speaking on his own behalf," Lewis wrote. "His declaration is noticeably absent."

Failing health?

As the two sides continue to duke it out in court filings, Hairston's own thoughts on the allegations remain absent from the record, as does any concrete determination of his physical and mental state. John Ronca, an independent attorney appointed by the court to represent Hairston in the conservatorship case, did not respond to request for comment from New Times.

click to enlarge KEEP OUT A fence and security camera adorn the modest Paso Robles home of 88-year-old Charles Hairston. Some of Hairston's friends allege that he's been isolated by his current caregiver, who they say is taking advantage of him for his money. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • KEEP OUT A fence and security camera adorn the modest Paso Robles home of 88-year-old Charles Hairston. Some of Hairston's friends allege that he's been isolated by his current caregiver, who they say is taking advantage of him for his money.

As with most of the other facts in his case, Hairston's exact state depends on whom you ask and which side they've taken in the case.

Dwyer, who wrote an Oct. 5 declaration in support of Borba, said he visits Hairston "every week or two" and claimed that even though Hairston's physical condition had declined to the point where he was bedridden, he could still converse with visitors.

"There are times he may drift off, but his comments demonstrate that he is tracking what I am talking to him about," Dwyer wrote.

Rabobank trust officer Chaisson wrote that he last visited Hairston Sept. 25. Hairston, Borba, nephew Kevin Wright and Hairston's sister, Camilla Hairston, were all present.

"Although I did not speak with Mr. Hairston, he was aware that we were present and he called out to his sister and Mrs. Borba," Chaisson wrote.

Lewis' court filing cast doubt on those claims, including a snippet from a confidential memorandum of a home interview with Hairston conducted by Melanie Phillips, who interviewed him as a probate investigator appointed by the courts.

"[For] instance, Mr. Hairston believes it's the year 1990 ... [Phillips] was unable to hold a coherent conversation with the proposed conservative [Hairston]," the memo reportedly stated.

Lewis argued that while Eddie might not be an optimal choice for conservator, the court should still appoint an independent party to oversee Hairston's care and finances.

"However, what is clearly established is that the family and friends of Charles Hairston have continuing incentive to misstate the competency and health of Charles Hairston, control what he says, and otherwise manipulate him to their benefit," he wrote.

The 'lottery curse'

While both sides wait for the court to determine the fate of Hairston and his fortune, he joins a growing list of big-money lottery winners whose massive windfalls created personal problems, feuding, and turmoil.

It's colloquially referred to as a curse. Victims include William Post III, who won $16 million from the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1988. His troubles included six divorces, lawsuits, a bankruptcy, and even his brother reportedly trying to hire a contract killer to murder Post and his sixth wife. Post died alone and nearly penniless in 2006.

West Virginia businessman Jack Whittaker won a staggering multi-state $315 million Powerball jackpot in 2002. While he tried to put the money to good use, donating millions to build churches and even setting up a nonprofit foundation, he was still flooded with requests for money and favors after his highly publicized win. His granddaughter was later found dead under mysterious circumstances after her boyfriend died of a drug overdose. Whittaker's marriage ended and his company was deluged with multiple frivolous lawsuits.

"Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed," Whittaker told members of the press in an October interview. "I think if you have something, there's always someone else who wants it. I wish I'd torn that ticket up."

Whether Hairston knew about these specific cautionary tales of lottery jackpots turning dreams into nightmares remains unknown, but the record indicates that he was at least concerned about the possibility shortly after his win.

"Charles was uneasy about having his photo published in regard to his big win, because he was concerned about people seeking him out for his money," Dwyer wrote about his friend. "And he did have strangers approach him with various schemes and requests. He was a bit depressed by all the people circling around him looking for money."

Sadly, the conflict swirling around the reclusive Hairston's post-lotto life wasn't caused by shady strangers looking to bilk him out of his fortune, but from those closest to him. It's a fact he reportedly lamented once to Borba, stating that, "Your own people can be your worst enemies." Δ

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com, or on Twitter at @CWMcGuinness.


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