A woman from New Hampshire is taking legal action against the state to prevent her identity becoming public after winning $560 million (£404m) in the lottery.
The woman, given the pseudonym "Jane Doe" in court filings, bought the winning ticket in the town of Merrimack on January 6.
The owner of the convenience store in the historic riverside town, 50 miles north west of Boston and with a population of 25,000, was so proud of selling the ticket – and his $75,000 bonus for doing so – that he made national headlines.
“Can you believe someone just walked into my store and won?!" said Sam Safa, as the mystery over the winner grew. "Most of my customers are local, and I’m hoping it’s someone local. But whoever it is, congratulations to them."
The winner was indeed a local woman. And last week she went to court to try and prevent her identity being made public.
“She is a long-time resident of New Hampshire and is an engaged community member,” her lawyer, 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.”
Lottery officials insist that the law is clear, and that the integrity of the game depends on public identification of the winners. New Hampshire lottery rules require the winner’s name, town and amount won be available for public information, in accordance with open-records laws.
She could have avoided identification only if she established a trust and asked a trustee to sign her name on the back of the ticket – something she did not know. Altering the signature on the back of her ticket would make it void.
She says she made a "huge mistake" when she signed her real name on the back of the ticket before contacting a lawyer, who told her she could have remained anonymous had she established the trust.
Charlie McIntyre, executive director for the New Hampshire lottery, 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.”
Mr Gordon and his team are hoping that the courts will take into account the myriad examples of lottery winners being conned or physically endangered. They even claim that the state’s opioid crisis proves that there is danger in the state, writing that New Hampshire, "despite it’s bucolic beauty… is not immune to crime."
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The lawsuit states that the woman now joins a small group of big jackpot winners that "has historically been victimized by the unscrupulous".
Indeed, the US has a history of violence against lottery winners.
In November 2015, Craigory Burch Jr won $434,272 in Georgia. 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,’” said his girlfriend, Jasmine Hendricks, at the time. “He said, ‘I’ll give you my bank card.’”
And a Florida man, Abraham Shakespeare, won a $30 million lottery prize in 2006, only to be approached two years later 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, then killed him.
“She got every bit of his money,” said Jay Pruner, assistant state attorney, in closing arguments. “He found out about it and threatened to kill her. She killed him first.”
She was found guilty in December 2012 of his death, and sentenced to life in prison.
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