The winning numbers triple-checked and the lottery ticket signed, the New Hampshire woman knew her life was about to change in a very positive way — except for one petrifying thing.
As the winner of last month’s $560 million Powerball, she would soon be the world’s newest owner of a nine-digit bank account.
But because of lottery rules, everyone in the world would know about it — neighbors, old high school friends, con artists, criminals.
Now the woman is asking a judge to let her keep the cash — and remain anonymous. In court documents obtained by NewHampshire.com, she is fittingly identified only as Jane Doe.
“She is a longtime resident of New Hampshire and is an engaged community member,” the woman’s attorney, Steven Gordon, wrote in the court documents. “She wishes to continue this work and the freedom to walk into a grocery store or attend public events without being known or targeted as the winner of a half-billion dollars.”
On one side of the case are lottery officials who say the integrity of the games depends on the public identification of its winners as a protection against fraud and malfeasance. A local woman holding up a giant check while cameras flash and reporters scrawl also happens to be a powerful marketing tool.
On the other side is a woman suddenly faced with a life-changing stroke of luck who, court documents say, wishes to live “far from the glare and misfortune that has often fallen upon other lottery winners.”
The law doesn’t appear to be on her side.
New Hampshire lottery rules require the winner’s name, town and amount won be available for public information, in accordance with open-records laws. The state allows people to form an anonymous trust, NewHampshire.com reported, but it’s a moot point for the woman — she’d already signed her name and altering the signature would nullify the ticket.
In a statement, New Hampshire lottery Executive Director Charlie McIntyre said the commission consulted with the state’s attorney general’s office and that the Powerball winner must abide by the disclosure laws “like any other.”
“The New Hampshire Lottery understands that winning a $560 million Powerball jackpot is a life-changing occurrence,” the statement said. “Having awarded numerous Powerball jackpots over the years, we also understand that the procedures in place for prize claimants are critically important for the security and integrity of the lottery, our players and our games. While we respect this player’s desire to remain anonymous, state statutes and lottery rules clearly dictate protocols.”
Other lottery winners have realized 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. One bought a water park, for example. Several others 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.”
And there are numerous examples of people who’ve tried to swindle lottery winners out of their newly acquired cash — or take the money by force.
In November 2015, Craigory Burch Jr. matched all five numbers in the Georgia Fantasy 5 drawing and won a $434,272 jackpot, The Washington Post’s Lindsey Bever reported.
Two months later, police said, Burch 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.
“When they came in, he said: ‘Don’t do it, bro. Don’t do it in front of my kids. Please don’t do it in front of my kids and old lady,’ ” his girlfriend, Jasmine Hendricks, told WALB-TV at the time. “He said, ‘I’ll give you my bank card.’ ”
Abraham Shakespeare won a $30 million lottery prize in 2006. Two years later, he was approached by Dorice “Dee Dee” Moore, who said she was writing a book about how people were taking advantage of him. She soon became his financial adviser and slowly siphoned away his money, according to Fox News.
“She got every bit of his money,” Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said in closing arguments. “He found out about it and threatened to kill her. She killed him first.”
Remaining anonymous can alleviate some of those problems, according to Shaheen & Gordon, P.A., the law firm that is representing the New Hampshire Powerball winner. They offered their advice in a blog post shortly after the winning ticket was announced — and before the winner was their client.
“Once you are outed, it can be overwhelming,” Attorney William Shaheen said in the post. “If you like your life and you like your friends, choose anonymity. If you don’t, things will change. People will look at you differently and treat you differently.”