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Rich Man, Poor Man

Running with Brandi should have been a blast, but it wasn't, Smith says. The easy money proved corrosive in a small group of young people. "It turns it to Hell," Smith says. "You don't know who you can trust." Brandi was mercurial. "When Brandi hands things out, she might be messed up and not remember it the next day," he says.

Smith, the son of schoolteachers, worried that he was betraying his values. "I turned into a different person," he says. "I had so much money, it turned me cold-hearted. You have $700 in your wallet. You spend it, and you know you'll have $700 the next day. It's fun, but it's also dumb. It's just a dream. You are not going to have it forever. You don't have to work. Usually, you are going to do something stupid."


West Virginians Jack and Jewell Whittaker won a $314 million Powerball jackpot on Christmas Day 2002. (John Sommers - Reuters)

_____Live Discussion_____
April Witt will discuss her story on Monday, January 31 at 1 p.m. ET.

So Smith quit spending so much time with Brandi and got a job greeting diners at an Applebee's restaurant. But his pal J.C. Shaver continued to hang around Brandi for the money, a decision he would come to regret.

Carol Eads remembers fuming. The stocky cook at Doc's says she came out of the kitchen to rest her feet only to have Jack snarl at her from a barstool that he wanted to have sex with the lady bartender. He said it in the foulest language, Eads contends. What's worse, the bartender on duty at the humble joint not far from Scott Depot happened to be Eads's daughter, a divorced mother of two.

"It will never happen," Eads recalls telling Jack. "That's my daughter you are talking about."

When Eads's daughter returned to the bar after waiting tables, Jack told her directly that he wanted to have sex with her and offered to pay. "He said, 'Money can buy anything,'" Eads says. "She said, 'Not me, it can't.'"

Eads's years in kitchens and bars have given her a view of human nature as unadorned as a dirty work apron. But Jack's proposition was too much to take. "If he'd had teeth, I would have knocked them out," she says.

Most nights, Doc's is packed with regulars: truckers, welders, businessmen and other locals. Visits from Jack disturbed the bar's friendly ambience more than once. One time, Eads says, he threw a chair and threatened to kill people. Another time, a local named Jeremiah Bennett needled Jack, saying he was pals with one of the guys accused of robbing $100,000 from Jack's Lincoln Navigator. "He tried to hit me with a plastic chair," Bennett says. "He was drunk. I wish he had. I would have fallen on the floor and said, 'Call an ambulance, I'm hurt real bad.'"

Another night, Jack offered a bartender $10,000 if she'd strip to her panties and model for him, Eads says. The woman said no, but then sought others' advice.

"She came over and asked me, 'If you were offered $10,000, would you do it?'" Eads recalls. "I said I wouldn't do it for a million. That's when she called Gary."

Gary Halstead, 41, did maintenance at the bar. The bartender in question was Halstead's live-in girlfriend at the time. "She called me and said what do I think about her modeling panties for him for $10,000," Halstead remembers. "I said, 'No, you are better than that.' For the amount of money he's got, $10,000 ain't nothing, is what I told her. That's like $100 to him. I said, 'You are not that cheap.'"

Retelling the story in between pulls on a bottle of beer, Halstead looks glum:

"We could have paid off the trailer with $10,000." He says he doesn't regret his advice. He says he doesn't regret his advice. He just thinks there's something powerfully wicked about offering hardworking people so much money that they are tempted to ruin themselves.

If his girlfriend had twirled around in her underpants for Jack, "it would have all gone sour," Halstead says. Come to think of it, it went sour anyway. Halstead and his girlfriend broke up.

"I hate it when he comes around here," Halstead says of Jack. "He's domineering. Like anyone else with money, he wants to lord it over people.

"How many people has he ruined?" Halstead asks. "I've seen him proposition women with their man right beside them. I've seen him offer women money many times. I've seen it so many times I'm very surprised he's not dead yet. This bar is all friends. We're like family. We take care of each other. He could have bought himself a little island somewhere. Why is he coming around here bothering us?"

Hurricane's Church of the Powerball is almost finished. That's how some folks think of the new Tabernacle of Praise, rising on a hill three-tenths of a mile from the unadorned chapel where the tiny congregation has gathered for two decades. Jewell used to pray at the modest brick chapel, so Jack donated and built a big new church that seats 500. The people of the Tabernacle will have to figure out how to fill them. Plenty of folks in Hurricane say they wouldn't lower their behinds into any pew paid for by Jack Whittaker.

Tabernacle's pastor, C.T. Matthews, says he's confident the congregation will prosper helping the lost find their way. "Let's pray for those that's lost and undone without God," he tells his congregation during a Sunday sermon. "Let's pray for those who are on cocaine and those who work in the meth labs."

"We say God is going to send them to Hell.

"God's not going to send them to Hell," Matthews says as a murmur ripples through the church. "They choose to go there . . . He said, I set before you life and death -- which will you choose?"

Jessie Joe Tribble's daddy didn't like that his 18-year-old son was dating Jack Whittaker's granddaughter. But Jessie wouldn't listen. "He got caught up in that web," says Jimmy Tribble, 45, a small businessman who manufactures baseball bats. "I call it a web because when you have all the money you want and you can drive 50-, 60-thousand-dollar vehicles and do what you want to do, you know, suddenly you lose your 'right and wrong' thinking pattern.

"I said: 'Jessie doesn't know what love is right now. He's over there for the money and the drugs, and we have got to get him out of there.'"

Jessie skipped school, and his grades dropped; Jimmy took away his car. Jessie wrecked an uninsured car he shouldn't have been driving; his daddy turned him in to the law. Then Jessie ran off with Brandi. The girl had access to so many houses and cars, Jimmy couldn't find his son, he says. A deputy sheriff finally told him that Jessie was living in a lake house Jack owned over in Beckley, Jimmy says.

"When he left my house, he took not even a pair of underwear," Jimmy says. "Nothing. She went and bought him clothes, all these fancy shirts and sweat pants and shoes. I couldn't compete with that . . . I couldn't win a battle with that kind of money."

Then, almost miraculously, Jessie came home. Jimmy found him crawling through a window in the middle of the night. Jessie was stoned on something and crying his eyes out. Brandi had dumped him, he told his daddy.

Jimmy was relieved. He and Jessie talked all night. "I told him, 'Son, those people are never going to be your friends,'" Jimmy recalls. By morning, Jessie had agreed to go to summer school.

Jessie finished high school that summer, even made an A in English. To put a little money in Jessie's pocket, Jimmy put him to work in the shop turning baseball bats on the lathe. Jessie talked about enlisting in the military like his older brother. "He was turning the corner," his father says. "I believe this with all my heart."

On Wednesday, September 15, Jessie left the shop after borrowing $2 to get something to eat at Dairy Queen. Jessie told his dad he'd be back the next day for his paycheck. He didn't show.

On Friday, Jimmy's brother came into the shop to say they'd found a boy dead over at Jack's house in Scott Depot. It looked like an overdose. Jimmy couldn't imagine what that had to do with him until he registered the look on his brother's face.

"Jimmy," his brother said, "they think it's Jessie."

Brandi seemed dazed. She stepped out of a Jeep in the parking lot of Chapman Funeral Home in Winfield and headed for the front door. Jessie's wake was underway.

A group of Jessie's grieving friends, outside for a smoke, refused to let Brandi pass. "They were calling her a bitch and yelling that she'd killed Jessie," remembers Jessie's grandmother Louise Tribble, a retired postal carrier who witnessed the commotion.

J.C. Shaver was there, and the money he'd gotten from Brandi meant nothing to him now. "We made a line across the funeral home where she couldn't get in," Shaver says. One boy revved up his Mustang and drove threatening circles around Brandi "like he wanted to hurt her real bad."

Jessie had died of an overdose, a combination of oxycodone, methadone, meperidine and cocaine, according to his death certificate. "She's the only one with money to buy drugs like that," Shaver says. "Everybody knew she was the reason for his death."

As the mob outside the funeral home denounced her, Brandi didn't even try to defend herself, Shaver says. "She just stood there."

On a Sunday in November, Jimmy was covered with plaster dust. More than two months after burying his son, he was working extra jobs to pay for the funeral and still make Christmas for his youngest two children.


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