TAMPA — Back in January, the city of Tampa sued Emma Winters, the widow of a city employee, to get her to repay $140,500 in death benefits she mistakenly received after her husband died.
Winters reached a deal to repay the city by selling a house she bought with the proceeds. But now she has asked a judge to cancel the deal she and the city struck to repay the money, saying she was tricked into signing the house over.
“Winters has debilitating cataracts in both her left eye and right eye, and could not read the stipulation agreement, or the agreement to convey the subject real property,” Winters says in a filing Oct. 14.
City Attorney Julia Mandell declined to speak about Winters’ filing, which is set to go before a judge Oct. 30. Winters’ attorney, Ivan Lenoir, didn’t return a call for comment.
Winters’ husband, Jerry, worked for the city for 17 years as a water department technician. He died in his sleep Sept. 11, 2011.
Winters received a benefits check for about $34,500. Between the end of January and the end of April, she received four more and cashed them all.
The error by the city’s pension office went undiscovered for five months. When it was discovered, the pension supervisor and her boss kept it to themselves as they tried to get Winters to give the money back.
That effort ultimately cost both of them their jobs and led to an audit of the city’s general-employee pension fund; the pension fund for police and firefighters was unaffected.
That audit, released last week to Tampa City Council, urged the city to put in place better monitoring of the monthly pension payments to look for unusual activity.
City officials said that controls were put into place to do just that after the Winters case turned up. Death benefits can now be paid out only once. Payments over $6,000 get reviewed to make sure they’re accurate.
In the months after the city sued Winters, a court-ordered mediation produced a deal: Winters would give the city the deed to an investment property at 2701 58th Street North in St. Petersburg — a house she had bought with the original death benefits payment.
The city could then sell the house and recoup the funds it overpaid to Winters. Pinellas County property records show Winters, who lives in Tampa, bought the St. Petersburg house eight months ago, on Feb. 4 for $98,500.
The Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office estimates the house would sell for $170,500 today. It was not immediately clear why the two figures are so far apart.
The final judgment was issued in May. The city currently holds the deed to the house.
On Oct. 14, Winters file a motion to vacate the final judgment.
In her filing, Winters says the city acted “unconscionably” in reaching its agreement with her.
Essentially, Winters says she was tricked into signing her St. Petersburg house over to the city.
The house she gave up is valued at up to $176,000, or about $36,000 more than Winters owes the city, her filing says.
Therefore, she has lost both her original investment and the value above what she owes the city, Winters said in her filing.