The mysterious winner of a US$560 million (NZ$768 million) lottery ticket in New Hampshire has finally claimed her prize, through her legal team, but she is still fighting to keep her identity a secret.
William Shaheen, a lawyer for the woman who has thus far remained anonymous, accepted the check for a lump sum of US$352 million, about US$264 million after taxes, reports said.
The first thing he did was give a total of about US$249,000 to a couple of nonprofits - Girls Inc. and three chapters of End 68 Hours of Hunger - and said the woman plans to give away as much as US$50 million in the future.
"She realizes how lucky she is," said Shaheen, according to USA Today.
"My client doesn't want any accolades, she doesn't want any credit. She just wants to do good things."
Little is known about the woman, who won the Powerball in January and has asked a judge to let her stay anonymous. She is from southern New Hampshire. The judge who is weighing whether her privacy interests outweigh the state's lottery rules ruled that the prize money could be awarded while he considers the case, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.
New Hampshire lottery rules require the winner's name, town and amount won be available for public information, in accordance with open-records laws and to increase trust in the lottery system. Attorneys for the state and the lottery commission have argued that the woman should not be allowed to exempt herself from the rules. The state Attorney General's Office said the woman's name must be revealed because she signed the back of the ticket, USA Today reported.
New Hampshire lottery executive director Charlie McIntyre said that the Powerball winner must abide by the disclosure laws "like any other," in February.
"While we respect this player's desire to remain anonymous, state statutes and lottery rules clearly dictate protocols," the statement said.
In court documents, the lottery winner asked a judge to allow the lottery winnings to be paid to a designated trust that keeps her anonymous. But lottery officials have argued that even if the cash goes into a trust, the ticket will have to be submitted in its original form - complete with the ticket buyer's name and home town.
Her lawyers have argued that she is part of a group that "has historically been victimized by the unscrupulous," and that she made a mistake by signing her name on the ticket, when if she had set up an anonymous trust, she would have been able to avoid identifying herself in that way.
A lawsuit filed by her lawyers says she is an "engaged community member" who wants to go about public life "without being known or targeted as the winner of a half-billion dollars."
Other lottery winners have realized that every ticket buyer's fantasy can quickly morph into a nightmare. There are myriad self-inflicted problems that can befall a person who suddenly comes into great wealth. Several have gambled their winnings away, including a two-time lottery winner who ended up living in a trailer.
Billie Bob Harrell Jr, who won US$31 million in 1997, told his financial adviser shortly before his suicide that "winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me."
And there are numerous examples of people who've tried to swindle lottery winners out of their newly acquired cash - or take the money by force.
In 2015, Craigory Burch Jr., the winner of a US$434,272 jackpot in Georgia, 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.
Abraham Shakespeare, the winner of a US$30 million lottery prize in 2006, was approached two years later by a woman who said she was writing a book about how people were taking advantage of him, became his financial adviser and slowly siphoned away his money.
"She got every bit of his money," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said in closing arguments.
"He found out about it and threatened to kill her. She killed him first."