By Petula Dvorak and Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, May 1, 2009 7:49 AM
A D.C. couple have at last come forward to claim the city's largest Powerball lottery jackpot, $144 million won more than three weeks ago. But we might never know the identity of the lucky pair, who are exploring legal avenues to protect their anonymity.
"An attorney got in touch with us, and we're pretty legit on this one," D.C. Lottery spokeswoman Athena Hernandez said.
The couple purchased the ticket at the new Giant grocery on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington. The April 8 drawing verified where the winning ticket was bought, but no one knew who purchased it. For weeks, the city has been abuzz about who the country's newest multimillionaires might be.
A lawyer got in touch with the lottery office this week to claim the winnings on behalf of his clients. Hernandez said the money will be handed over at 11 a.m. Monday, but the lottery commission and the lawyer are wrangling with the details about the handover.
"They physically may not come," Hernandez said. The lawyer said his clients want to remain anonymous and are trying to have him claim the prize for them.
This is not necessarily what a lottery commission wants. Officials love the big smile, the news conference, the giant check and dreams made palpable in the form of a real person everyone can relate to.
But in many cases, the winners have formed trusts and claimed the prize as an entity, concealing their identities. Attorneys for the D.C. Lottery are working with the winners' attorney to try to negotiate for their appearance, she said. "We're trying hard to get them there," Hernandez said.
She remains unsure of the winners' identities. "The one thing I know for sure is that they are District residents," she said.
One person who is certain to show up at the lottery office is the tax collector.
Spurred into action by word that a winner has emerged, Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi requested yesterday that the D.C. Council approve emergency legislation Tuesday "to clarify and ensure their authority to withhold District income taxes on lottery winnings of District residents."
David Umansky, a spokesman for the office, said the city would receive 8.5 percent of the winnings. If the couple choose to take a lump sum of $79.6 million, that would be nearly $6.8 million.