As the Powerball Jackpot Is Claimed, Mystery Remains: The Winner's Name

By Nikita Stewart and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The D.C. Lottery office was decked out for a celebration.

Helium-filled balloons bobbed in the air at the Frank D. Reeves Center on U Street NW. Icing on a sheet cake exclaimed: CONGRATULATIONS TO THE D.C.

LOTTERY'S $144 MILLION POWERBALL JACKPOT WINNER! Gift bags were filled with small favors, all with the lottery's logo.

But the winner kept his distance. He dispatched his attorney instead, choosing to remain out of the public eye.

The attorney, David Wilmot, did little to enlighten things. He offered a thumbnail sketch of the winner, an 82-year-old widower from Southeast Washington with 10 children and 47 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He is a lifelong District resident who "works in his community," Wilmot said.

In addition, Wilmot said, the winner hoped to be able to maintain his privacy, keep from being overwhelmed by publicity and go on with a normal life. "He wants to remain anonymous," Wilmot said. "I have to respect his wishes about privacy."

Technically, the $79.6 million lump sum goes not to the man but to Rockson LLC, a limited liability company. Lottery officials said such a partnership permits the winner to protect his anonymity.

"He does not have to appear in documents," Wilmot said.

Wilmot declined to say what the significance of the name "Rockson" might be.

The octogenarian has created three trusts: one to educate his heirs, one for their health care and one for philanthropy, Wilmot said.

The emergence of a winner, even one whose name is cloaked behind a limited liability company formed just for the lottery winnings, ended what lottery spokeswoman Athena Hernandez called a mystery that fueled gossip across the city since the April 8 drawing. "The theories about the winner have been interesting," she mused.

Last month, the grapevine hummed with theories that the winner was a man on probation but that he wasn't getting the prize because he had violated probation by buying a lottery ticket, a form of gambling. Or someone living in a homeless shelter.

Even officials with the lottery and the District's Office of the Chief Financial Officer got it wrong. Last week, they said a couple had stepped forward with the winning ticket.

Wilmot said city officials don't know the winner's name.

Lottery officials were openly disappointed at being unable to present a winner for the cameras beside a mockup check huge in both its girth and zeros. Managers from the Giant supermarket on Alabama Avenue in Southeast where the ticket was bought didn't come. Neither did D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8).

"Having a winner is a huge part of being able to promote the lottery," said Jeffrey "Jay" Young, director of the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board.

The anonymity is legal. Despite fine print on the back of a lottery ticket that says winners grant the lottery the right to use "Name, City, County and State of Residence," a photograph and a likeness, the law allows the creation of entities such as trusts and limited liability companies.

Just being the attorney for a winner can be overwhelming. Wilmot said he received 80 calls yesterday morning after people heard his client had hit it big. Most were solicitations. With overnight riches comes vulnerability.

"Could you imagine if it was him at 82 years old" getting calls? Wilmot asked.

A family source said it was only last night that the man told his family, when he invited members to his home for dinner. He gathered them around and asked them to bow their heads in prayer. Afterward, he told them that he'd won the jackpot and what he planned to do with the money. They prayed again, said the source, who was not authorized to talk about events at the house.

Yesterday, at a modest house on a quiet street where a neighborhood activist said the lottery winner was rumored to live, two men emerged from the back door. They identified themselves as the owner's sons. Asked whether the lottery winner lived there, one of the men said, "It's supposed to be anonymous."

Wilmot said his client has not decided whether to move from his home, where he has lived for decades.

After federal and local taxes, Wilmot said, the man -- who bought one $1 ticket with numbers picked randomly -- will have about $60 million.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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