A construction worker who cashed in a winning $38.5 million lottery ticket that he had bought with five men on his crew must share the jackpot with them, a New Jersey jury has found.
The Superior Court panel unanimously decided Thursday (March 15) that Americo Lopes, 52, had cheated his five fellow highway construction crew members out of their winnings.
|“They robbed me,” Americo Lopes said of his former co-workers, who were each awarded a share of a winning lottery ticket.|
“They robbed me,” Lopes said in Portuguese upon hearing the verdict, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
The six worked for Berto Construction Inc., a concrete contractor based in Elizabeth, NJ.
Beginning in 2007, the group purchased lottery tickets as a group. In November 2009, according to testimony, Lopes collected $2 from each man and bought a Mega Millions ticket that proved to be a $38.5 million winner.
Lopes hid the news of the winnings and quit his job, telling his boss that he needed foot surgery.
“We believed him,” said José Sousa, one of the members of the group.
Lopes did not get the surgery, but he did file for unemployment benefits. Later, he told another man in the pool that he had won the lottery a week after quitting his job. Lopes opted for a single $24 million cash payout that amounted to $17,433,966 after taxes.
When the news about Lopes’s winnings spread, a third group member checked the lottery website and found out when Lopes had actually won. The group then filed the claim in 2010, and the money was frozen.
It is not yet clear how much the other men will ultimately receive. Rubin Sinins, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said each was awarded $4 million, or one-sixth of the cash payout. However, Eric Kahn, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told the New York Times that details on how much each man would receive and how much each might owe in taxes needed to be worked out.
A court spokeswoman said Lopes would pay each of the five about $2 million each, after taxes and attorneys' fees.
The case was based largely on circumstantial evidence. Lopes’s lawyer noted during the trial that the group had not documented who had bought what, and with what money. Lopes claimed that he had used his own personal numbers for the ticket, which he had done since winning $40 in the Canadian lottery.
Nevertheless, the plaintiffs “feel vindicated,” said Sinins.
“We trusted him,” Sousa, 46, told the Times. “He cheated us.” Of the jury’s decision, he said: “We proved that we’re not lying. This is the most important thing.”
However, Lopes’s wife, Margarida, told the Star-Ledger: “Justice was not served today.”