Saturday, 6 January 2018, saw one lucky person scooping up a $559.7 million Powerball Jackpot. Sites all over the internet posted about the winning ticket, but all was speculation, the only fact – that the ticket had been bought at Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
By the end of January, still, no one had come forward to claim the prize. Surprising, considering it’s the sixth-largest jackpot win in Powerball history. At this time, it was made common knowledge that a mysterious caller had in fact contacted the lottery officials 6 days after the draw to enquire about the payment options; the full amount over 29 years or a $352 018 919.39 immediate cash pay-out. After that, all was quiet again and everyone was wondering if this mystery winner was going to collect at all! There have been a total of 3 unclaimed jackpots since the Powerball’s launch in 1992, so it had definitely happened before. Luckily, the state of New Hampshire gives winners an entire year to collect their prize.
Fast forward to early February and suddenly the lottery news is ablaze with stories of the winner, now identified as a woman from southern New Hampshire who is very involved in the community. The woman apparently said that she had signed the back of her ticket without realizing that this meant her name and address would be made public, as according to the state’s open-record laws. Only after contacting a lawyer did she learn that if she had simply written the name of a trust on the back of her ticket, then she would have legally had her identity shielded. The lottery commission has acknowledged that this information isn’t actually on the ticket but is detailed on their website. Under New Hampshire law, any winner’s name, town and winning amount are public information, including use in games promotions.
It was later reported that the judge on the case had agreed to the money being paid out to a trust she had set up – The Good Karma Family Trust, whilst the battle to keep her private life private prevailed. Her lawyers were adamant that making her name and address public would expand on the extreme levels of stress she was already experiencing and would put her safety at risk, as well as that of her friends and family. It would lead to unwanted media attention for a woman who kept her personal life very private and possibly lead to harassment from people wanting a portion of her fortune. The lawyers also stated that they had already received hundreds of emails from opportunists, even including a Navy veteran who offered to take responsibility for collecting the ticket in exchange for a $1 million fee. Attorney Steve Gordon was quoted as saying, “How does a person deal with all that, never mind real concerns about threats to her safety. There is a documented history of people being harmed, people coming into their homes.”
Meanwhile, a lawyer for the commission argued that the law was clear on the requirement to release her information and that failing to do so could erode trust in the lottery. Assistant Attorney General John Conforti fought alongside, saying, “Where there is a public interest in information within a public document, we have an obligation to disclose it. We can’t choose to avoid that obligation because it’s convenient or messy.”
In early March, William Shaheen, the woman’s lawyer, collected the lump sum of $352 million, about $264 million after taxes. The very first thing that the woman did with her money was to give about $249 000 to Girls Inc. and End 68 Hours of Hunger, a couple of non-profit organizations. And apparently, she plans to give even more.
As for the battle to remain anonymous, she won her case and has never had to make her details public. Shaheen said, “What little I can say is that she and her family have a long-standing commitment to their community and are thrilled to be able to enhance their impact through targeted philanthropy for generations to come.”Even the executive director of the New Hampshire Lottery stated that “whilst we don’t know the winner’s identity, we do know that her heart is in the right place.”
Lucky for Jane Doe, she got her fortune without all the hassles of the fame.
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