Loss of Privacy and 'Leeches' Behind Powerball Jackpot Winner's Quest to Remain Anonymous

Feb 12, 2018

The sign outside Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack, which sold the $560-million winning ticket.
Credit Todd Bookman/NHPR

On Tuesday, a  New Hampshire woman will ask a Superior Court judge to let her cross her name off the back of a $560-million winning lottery ticket. It’s not that she doesn’t want the money. It’s what comes with the sudden wealth that she’s trying to avoid.

The single winning Powerball ticket for the January 6th drawing—the seventh largest prize in U.S. history—was sold at Reeds Ferry Market in Merrimack. But rather than come forward and claim her prize, the winner instead has filed a lawsuit requesting that she get to stay out of the spotlight.

The winner, who is identified in court papers only as Jane Doe, followed the directions on the state Lottery Commission’s website. Those directions instruct winners to ‘sign the back of the ticket.’

“Well, if you sign the back of the ticket, under New Hampshire law, the name is public knowledge, and then what happens is you become a target,” explains Bill Zorn, a Manchester-based lawyer with the firm McLane Middleton, who specializes in working with lottery winners. He says there are countless stories of sudden millionaires falling victim to bad actors, with financial exploitation, scams, and threats of violence a constant for publicly named winners.

This is what Jane Doe is trying to prevent. She’s asking the court to let her ‘white out’ her name from the back of the ticket, and write in a kind of workaround.

“So the way around it is to create a trust, where your name is not part of the trust, and someone else is the trustee,” says Zorn.

The name of the trust gets printed on the back of the ticket. While that becomes public record under New Hampshire’s Right to Know laws, the person the trust is linked to remains anonymous. It’s a perfectly legal maneuver that has no impact on tax exposure.

The state Lottery Commission, though, has strict rules about altering winning tickets.

“Once the name is written on the back, you can’t change the back of the ticket,” says Zorn. “Otherwise it becomes void.”

“Void” is not a word you want to hear when you’re talking about $560 million.

While it may be hard to generate too much sympathy for Jane Doe, consider what’s happening to Sam Safa.

Safa owns Reeds Ferry Market, the Merrimack convenience store that sold Jane Doe her winning ticket. He got a $75,000 bonus from the Lottery Commission. That’s loose change compared to Jane Doe’s haul, yet even he is getting hounded for money.

“I’ve been getting calls from as far as Alabama, Tennessee, California, people from all over the country, and I’m not even the winner, so I can’t even imagine how many phone calls this lady will be getting,” says Safa.

As he puts it, "the leeches" are coming out.