Washington - The mysterious winner of a $560 million lottery ticket who fought to keep her identity a secret is allowed to stay anonymous, a judge ruled on Monday.
Not much is known about the southern New Hampshire woman, who won the Powerball jackpot in January and asked a judge to let her stay out of the public eye. The judge last week ruled that the woman could claim her prize money while he considered whether her privacy interests outweighed the state's lottery rules.
William Shaheen, a lawyer for the woman, had accepted a check for a lump sum of $352 million, about $264 million after taxes, reports said. The first thing he did was give a total of about $249 000 to a couple of nonprofits - Girls Inc. and three chapters of End 68 Hours of Hunger - and said the woman plans to give away as much as $50 million in the future.
Judge Charles Temple on Monday granted the woman anonymity and ruled that revealing her name would be an invasion of privacy, in part because lottery winners in general are subject to "repeated solicitation, harassment, and even violence," Temple wrote in his 16-page resolution. He cited how a past lottery winner received a bomb threat, how another had received nonstop phone calls and how several others had received requests from strangers who wanted handouts.
"The Court therefore has no difficulty finding that [the woman] would also be subject to similar solicitation and harassment if her identity were disclosed," Temple wrote.
He did rule, however, that the woman's hometown can be publicly released, as it was "highly unlikely" that the woman could be identified as the winner solely based on her hometown.
New Hampshire lottery rules have required the winner's name, town and amount won be available for public information, in accordance with open-records laws and to increase trust in the lottery system. Attorneys for the state and the lottery commission had argued that the woman should not be allowed to exempt herself from the rules. The state Attorney General's Office said the woman's name must be revealed because she signed the back of the ticket, USA Today reported.
In court documents, the lottery winner asked a judge to allow the lottery winnings to be paid to a designated trust that keeps her anonymous. But lottery officials had argued that even if the cash goes into a trust, the ticket will have to be submitted in its original form - complete with the ticket buyer's name and hometown.
The woman's lawyers have argued that she is part of a group that "has historically been victimised by the unscrupulous," and that she made a mistake by signing her name on the ticket, when if she had set up an anonymous trust, she would have been able to avoid identifying herself in that way.
A lawsuit filed by the woman's lawyers says she is an "engaged community member" who wants to go about public life "without being known or targeted as the winner of a half-billion dollars."
Other lottery winners have realised that every ticket buyer's fantasy can quickly morph into a nightmare. There are myriad self-inflicted problems that can befall a person who suddenly comes into great wealth. Several have gambled their winnings away, including a two-time lottery winner who ended up living in a trailer.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr., who won $31 million in 1997, told his financial adviser shortly before his suicide that "winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me."
In 2015, Craigory Burch Jr., the winner of a $434 272 jackpot in Georgia, was killed in his home by seven masked men who kicked in his front door. His family members said the public announcement of the lottery winnings had made him a target.
Abraham Shakespeare, the winner of a $30 million lottery prize in 2006, was approached two years later by a woman who said she was writing a book about how people were taking advantage of him, became his financial adviser and slowly siphoned away his money.
"She got every bit of his money," Florida Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said in closing arguments during her trial. "He found out about it and threatened to kill her. She killed him first."
The Washington Post