Winners identified for $543 million lottery jackpot

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On a whim, Roland Reyes pitched $2 into an office pool, along with 10 colleagues at his Wells Fargo office in San Jose, trying to win the largest prize in California lotto history.

The 11 financial workers, ranging in age from 21 to 60, won the $543 million Mega Millions jackpot with a quick pick ticket and claimed the prize at the Hayward lottery office the day after the July 24 draw.

“If I could win, anybody could win. We’re just normal people!” Reyes said in a press release.

All 11 winners have chosen to take the lump sum of $320.5 million, which for each member amounts to $29,140,281 before federal taxes (the state of California does not tax lottery winnings). The lotto earnings will be taxed at the highest bracket, 37 percent, which will come to a whopping tax-bill of roughly $10.7 million.

In addition to Reyes, the winners were identified as Marigold Villaruz, Rita Sinha, Murad Kureshi, Nga Lam, My Nguyen, Solonachchige Dissanayake, Isabel Dominguez, Alejandra Villanueva, Alice Socorro and Joji Ziegele. They all work for a Wells Fargo branch in San Jose.

The size of the prize that each member takes home is truly life-changing. It’s enough to buy 220 Tesla Model Xs, or purchase 12.2 homes in Santa Clara — or pay half of Warriors Steph Curry’s annual salary. Instead of splurging, however, the winners said they plan to pay off mortgages and kids’ college tuition, help family members, go back to school and travel.

Banding together to play the lottery has proved extremely lucrative for other office workers. In 2016, 20 workers at a Tennessee auto parts plant — who twice a week bought $120 worth of lottery tickets — won a $421 million Powerball jackpot.

Some office pool wins don’t end quite so happily.

In 2013, seven hair stylists at an Indiana salon sued a co-worker who had bought a winning state lottery ticket. The seven claimed it was part of a
regular group-purchase arrangement. The dispute eventually ended in a settlement over the $9.5 million prize.

A group of seven Kaiser Permanente co-workers in Southern California split a $315 million Mega Millions jackpot in 2005, after winning a legal battle against four other colleagues seeking a share of the loot.

In 2009, a New Jersey construction worker was sued by six colleagues, with whom he regularly pooled cash and bought lottery tickets. When he purchased a winning Mega Millions ticket worth $38.5 million and didn’t tell the rest of the ticket-buying group, a court ordered him to split the money with them.

Jason Kurland, who markets himself as “The Lottery Lawyer,” says he fields a couple calls a year from people involved in disputes over office-pool lottery winnings. But preventing such conflicts is fairly straightforward, said Kurland, who is based in Long Island.

Whoever buys a ticket for the group should email the ticket number or a photocopy of the ticket to the entire group, along with text specifying the draw date and stating that those receiving the email are the members of the pool. The email also should include how the winnings are to be divided, Kurland said.

“You don’t want there to be any confusion,” he said, adding that legal disputes over lottery winnings can be extra-costly, because the eventual winners lose out on interest they could’ve earned by receiving the money right after winning.

It’s unlikely that this group will have such problems, however, said Russ Lopez, a spokesperson for the California lottery. He met some of the winners on July 25 and said they had no issue collecting and splitting their money.

“They were extremely friendly, very smart,” said Lopez, “Their heads were on straight.”

“They are casual players, they don’t usually play the lottery,” said Lopez, who added that the size of the jackpot convinced them to try this time.

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