Lottery winner is ordered to share his $24m jackpot

Builder who was in syndicate claimed he bought ticket himself

A builder who won the lottery, quit his job and tried to keep his good fortune secret from co-workers who should have shared in the jackpot has been ordered to surrender $20m (£12.8m) to the men he defrauded.

Americo Lopes picked the winning numbers in New Jersey's $24m "Mega Millions" draw in November 2009, more than two years after forming a gambling syndicate with five colleagues at a construction business. Instead of cracking open champagne, he quietly pocketed the winnings and then quit his job, claiming he needed foot surgery. No such operation ever took place. Instead, Lopes devoted his time to successfully claiming unemployment benefits.

On Wednesday, a jury in Elizabeth, New Jersey, unanimously found Lopes, a Portuguese immigrant, guilty of defrauding his colleagues, ordering him to pay them $4m each. They are expected to receive $2m after taxes and legal fees are collected.

Dramatic scenes greeted the end of the trial, which at times mirrored the plot of It Could Happen To You, a 1994 film in which a police officer promises to share his lottery ticket with a waitress, in lieu of a tip, but is persuaded by his wife to renege on the agreement. The five plaintiffs leapt to their feet and embraced one another when the verdict was read out. "I feel like I could cheer," said one of them, Candido Silva Snr. "Justice was done today."

A colleague, Jose Sousa, added: "We proved we were not lying. That was the most important thing."

The court was told that Lopes and his colleagues at Berto Construction would while away the hours in their pick-up truck discussing how they might spend a lottery jackpot. They decided to form a gambling syndicate in 2007. Two years later, Lopes, 52, told them he would be quitting work to have surgery. He kept in touch but did not say that he had won the lottery until 2010, when he claimed he had scooped the jackpot on a ticket he bought himself.

When co-workers checked listings of previous state lottery winners, they discovered Lopes bought the winning ticket when he was part of their syndicate. When they confronted him, Lopes then claimed to have purchased it in a personal capacity. "The fact is Mr Lopes won the lottery by himself with his own money and numbers that he picked," claimed his attorney, Michael Mezzacca.

The jury saw things differently, noting that the winning ticket was brought as part of a run of 12, the number the six-man syndicate always purchased. Although Lopes had not signed any legal agreement to share any jackpot, they found the group had what was effectively an oral contract. Legal experts said the case illustrated the importance of dotting "i's" and crossing "t's" when setting up lottery syndicates.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?