VAN BUREN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WXYZ) - Friendships come to an end about money too often, but this story is different. It involves a popular game show, and a fight over a cash prize.
The prime time version of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" was one of the most popular game shows of the last decade, and when it came back in 2009 for a 10th anniversary special, Rebecca Kesler from Van Buren Township was ready to play.
She made it through the 'fastest finger' round to sit in the hot seat with host Regis Philbin.
Kesler, an attorney, would walk away with $50,000.
"It was fun, it was exciting, I was not expecting to win anything," says Kesler. "I was just stunned that I made it into the hot seat."
Back home in metro Detroit, her friend Kevin Hirsch watched the episode a few days later on television. He already knew she had done well because his wife Sarah was Kesler’s phone-a-friend and helped Rebecca win the $25,000 question.
“I thought she did great," says Hirsch. "She called us immediately after she taped that show and we were all incredibly excited.”
But that excitement would lead to tension, and ultimately the end of a friendship as well as a lawsuit that has quietly dragged on in the courts for three years.
Kevin, also an attorney, says he had an agreement with Rebecca that he would help her get on the show, and if she made it on and won, he would collect one-third of her winnings.
Kevin says he qualified Rebecca for the show when he made the initial call and answered the questions in a preliminary quiz.
“I made the call for her, and I entered the information that she provided for me, she got the call that she was on the show," says Hirsch.
But after Rebecca came back from "Millionaire" and collected her check, Kevin says she disappeared.
“It was becoming clear to me that she was avoiding me after she was on the show, and I didn’t want to pester her for the money because I had absolutely no doubt that she was going to pay me," says Hirsch.
But when Rebecca eventually told him there had never been a deal, Kevin filed a lawsuit and pointed to an email as proof of their agreement.
“She initially took the position that she had no idea what I was talking about, that there was no agreement ever to pay me any money," says Hirsch.
After dozens of hearings and thousands of pages of documents, 34th District Court Judge David Parrott ruled in Kevin’s favor, ordering Kesler to pay more than $11,700.
Kesler agrees that Kevin got her qualified for the show, but says she never read the email regarding the winnings.
“Never read it, never agreed to those terms, wouldn’t have agreed to those terms,” says Kesler.
Kesler says she has tried to settle the case.
“It just seems that Mr. Hirsch at this point has a personal vendetta against me,” says Kesler.
For Kevin Hirsch, he says at this point, it is not about the money.
“Oh it’s absolutely principle, at this point I've spent more time and money prosecuting this case than I could ever hope to get back," says Hirsch. "The money at this point means nothing."
Kesler, who's husband Tim Szetela is running for Van Buren Township Supervisor, says dragging out the case is meant to hurt her husband's chances at winning.
"I think other people who are running for supervisor are motivated by trying to smear Tim Szetela's name by saying his wife is unethical, and a cheater, and a sleazy lawyer," says Kesler.
According to court documents, a court officer was sent to the Kesler home several times to retrieve assets to pay the judgment but nobody ever answered the door.
The judge this week declined to assign a receiver to the case who could collect Kesler’s assets.
Kesler is appealing the judgment against her, which means there is no end in sight for a breach of contract case that would typically take a lot less time to resolve.
"To me it's the story of the lottery winner's curse," says Kesler. "And also a cautionary tale - to be careful of what you respond to in emails, to read them before you respond to them."
Copyright 2012 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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