Winning the lottery, owning that Powerball jackpot ticket, is the definition of the dream for millions. A way to make the struggles of life disappear. So what do you do if that dream comes true and you still end up trying to make ends meet?
For Sharon Tirabassi, 35, that’s not just a hypothetical question.
Nine years ago, on Easter weekend in April 2004, she won $10.5 million on the lottery in Canada. Today she has nothing.
In a shocking reversal of fortune, she now works a part-time job and struggles to support her children. After cashing $10,569,000.10 check nearly a decade ago, the Hamilton, Ontario resident has gone from living a high roller lifestyle to living from paycheck to paycheck.
Immediately after her Lotto Super Seven win, Tirabassi — whose maiden name was Mentore — started spending up a storm. Houses, cars, designer clothes, parties, holidays to Cancun, Florida, Las Vegas, California, the Caribbean, huge payouts to family and loans to friends. Nothing was out of reach.
She upgraded to an upscale neighborhood and married a man called Vinny. In 2006, the newlyweds and some of Tirabassi’s family moved lock, stock, and barrel into a vast $515,000 home in Ancaster, Ontario.
Despite her big win, Tirabassi took out a $360,000 mortgage on the house. Her customized license plate on her cadillac — one of the couple’s four cars — read “BABIPHAT” after her favorite designer clothing line.
She says her Ancaster neighbors hated the cadillac. Tricked out with turntables and sound mixers, she blasted hip-hop music in the driveway and shook the timbers of her new quiet suburban street. Tirabassi says her neighbors “didn’t like young people.”
Generous to a fault, she gave a lot of her lottery winnings away. $1 million went to her parents, a further $ 1.75 million was split between her four siblings. She also bought several houses in Ontario, but rented them out at affordable rates to families. She claims she sometimes paid people’s rent and loaned money to a friend when her husband went to jail. She also helped two friends start up their own business in Toronto.
Recalling the overwhelming feeling of having it all after a lifetime of scrimping and saving, Tirabassi says she didn’t employ a financial adviser and would only check her bank account occasionally. When she did, she says there were always “so many zero’s” that she thought she had plenty in the kitty.
That is, until the day she realized she only had three quarters of a million left.
“You don’t think it’ll go (at the time), right?” she says.”And that was time for fun to stop and to just go back to life,”
By 2007, according to a Spectator interview, Tirabassi had blown half of her lottery win and was living off interest from investments on the $5 million that remained.
Her husband Vinny crashed their Mustang that year too. After pleading guilty to two counts of driving impaired and causing bodily harm, he was sentenced to 18 months in jail plus two years’ probation. His licence was also revoked for five years. While he was in jail, the Tirabassis lost their house in Ancaster. He would also serve time again in 2011 after breaching his conditions and driving with a disqualified licence.
Today, the couple are living in a rented house near to the Hamilton apartment Sharon started out in. With nine children — each brought three from previous relationships, before they had three more — it’s quite a squeeze.
Looking back on the money, the lifestyle, the friends, and the family that have come and gone, Tirabassi now says “Money is the root of all evil.”
Her husband echoes the sentiment, “Money doesn’t buy you happiness. It caused her a lot of headaches. She lost a lot of friends, a lot of family.”
Today, the woman who had it all works as a personal care provider, a vocation she qualified for in 2004. But the couple do worry about people knowing where they live and being robbed because people might think they still have money.
Reflecting, Tirabassi says helping others was something that came naturally.
“That’s the way I was brought up. Help those who can’t help themselves,” she says.
She says she is raising her children to be responsible about how they deal with and approach money.
But she does have one piece of advice for would-be lottery winners. “Try to keep it to yourself. Keep it to yourself and don’t trust anybody but family.”
The woman knows of what she speaks.
Do you think this scenario could ever happen to you, or is it one of the craziest stories you’ve ever heard?