- Last Updated: 8:00 PM, March 14, 2012
- Posted: 9:38 AM, March 14, 2012
A New Jersey hardhat will have to fork over a staggering $20 million to his former lottery pool buddies who sued him after he claimed a $77 million jackpot alone.
“They robbed me!” whined Americo Lopes, upset that a jury found he wrongly refused to share the lottery winnings with his pals.
For years, Lopes and five other New Jersey construction workers would throw in $2 each to buy three tickets for the Mega Millions lottery.
But when one of the tickets hit the $77 million jackpot in 2009, Lopes, who would regularly buy the tickets, hid the news from his buddies, his former pals claimed in a lawsuit.
A Union County, NJ jury today decided in favor of the five co-workers — who will get $4 million each, after taxes.
“I’m just happy that the truth came out,” said one of the pool members, Carlos Fernandes of Elizabeth.
Lopes’ attorney, Michael Mezzacca, brought in 1,090 of his client’s previous bets to prove the winning ticket followed the pattern of his personal bet and was not a part of the pool.
But the plaintiffs saw the records as an opportunity to show Lopes followed tradition when he paid $12 for 12 lines of tickets — just as the group had done weekly for at least three years. Of all the personal tickets, not one was worth $12, attorneys said.
During his closing arguments, plaintiff’s attorney Eric Kahn asked the jurors to not reward what he called the lies of a greedy man.
“When $24 million is at stake, people do funny things,” he said.
Lopes, who took the stand in his own defense earlier this week, had explained to the jury why the winning ticket is indisputably his and his alone.
The computer-generated ticket, he said, shows five rows of numbers, labeled A, B, C, D, and E, all of which are his own picks that he made with his own money.
One of those rows, D, features a series of numbers that he has personally for the past 28 years: 02-12-29-31-42-44.
Lopes testified that he considers the series lucky because it once won him $40 in the Canadian lottery.
The jackpot winning numbers are on that same ticket, just in row A: 08-21-29-34-37-15.
Since he only placed his "Canada" numbers on his personal tickets, Lopes said that proves that he made a side bet after he bet the pool's money.
But his five coworkers say that he used their money to hit the winning numbers, and that they're each owed $4 million each.