The former marketing director of SFGN, John Fugate, thought his short jaunt to San Juan last month would be a great respite after a year of surviving pandemically compromised times.

Like so many others, Fugate had lost his previous job as the General Manager at Floppy Rooster’s in Miami, when the global pandemic forced the nightclub to close.

Fugate’s Puerto Rico trip earned him more than a vacation on the beach, though. While in San Juan, Fugate purchased a $5 scratch-off that turned out to be a winning ticket worth $50,000.

“When I went to pick up my check at the Lottery office, they all congratulated me, and tried to get me to deposit it in their own bank, the Bank of Puerto Rico,” he said.

“But I told them I had an account with Bank of America and I would deposit it there when I got home,” Fugate added.

On Feb. 22, Fugate deposited the winning check into his account at the Sistrunk Financial Center and received a receipt, stating there would be a hold on the offshore check, and the funds would be available by 9 a.m. on March 1, 2021.

“I was so excited because my landlord was just listing his duplex for sale, and I immediately got a sales contract from him to put a down payment on it with my winnings,” Fugate noted.

“I grew up in a trailer without running water in Lakeland. This was going to be my first home that was all my own,” Fugate told SFGN.

On Friday afternoon, Feb. 26, however, the Bank asked Fugate to come into the center to authenticate his identity because of the size of the check.

Fugate returned to the Bank the first thing Monday morning, March 1, and presented his passport, Florida driver’s license, credit cards, and his bank debit card, along with a copy of the winning check, pictures of the lotto ticket, and his address and phone numbers.

The bank had said only they were concerned initially because the check was made out in his full name, John William Bryant Fugate, but that the bank account only listed the name John Fugate. 

“My mom and dad gave me two middle names, but my name and the account name is still John Fugate,” he said.

When Fugate proved the check was authentic, bank officers promised to “escalate and accelerate” his ability to negotiate the check.

“Everyone at the bank even congratulated me on my good fortune. I was blessed,” Fugate said.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum. When Fugate returned Wednesday, March 3, to claim his winnings, Bank of America not only failed to give him the proceeds of his check, they advised him that “for business reasons,” they had closed his account.

Bank of America representatives then further informed him they had returned a photocopy of his check, to an out-of-state address where he no longer resides. 

“It’s crazy,”  Fugate said, “not only did they not give me my money, two days after they verified my identity and my address with a passport, they returned a photocopy of the check somewhere else, and refused to give me back the original. They say they have to hold it for safekeeping. Whose safekeeping? It’s my check, if they don’t want to honor it, give it back to me!”

Fortunately for Fugate, his former partner is an attorney. He is, in fact, SFGN’s publisher, Norm Kent, and he sued the Bank of America on Monday, asking for the original check, the funds from his bank account, and a million dollars in punitive damages.

Stated Kent, “The Bank of America has been grossly negligent, first, by breaching their promise to release the funds to him on the date they promised, second for conversion by taking John’s original check and refusing to give it back to him, and third, for misrepresenting to him that once he authenticated his identity he was good to go.”

Kent further stated that his client did everything right and “the Bank of America did everything wrong. And they will pay for it.”

In the meantime, Fugate says, “the Bank of America has turned what should be a celebration into a nightmare. Now I may have to go back to San Juan to ask them to issue another one, or hope I can retrieve the lost one and another bank will honor it. It’s so stupid. Why can’t the Bank just give me the one I deposited. It’s mine!” 

If you want to chat more with john about his winnings, just buy him a drink at a local tavern. He may not have the money for it. The bank closed his account as well, and took away his debit card. 

“They should be giving me a box of chocolates,” Fugate said. “After all, I just deposited $50,000 into their bank.” 

Once Bank of America has been served the lawsuit, they will have 20 days to respond.


The winning ticket, courtesy of John Fugate.