Five construction workers became millionaires in a New Jersey courtroom today after a jury ruled their former co-worker swindled them out of their group lottery winnings.
"It feels good. The jury believed our clients. They are vindicated. I think they are still in some shock," said Eric Kahn, an attorney for the five men. "It hasn't set in yet."
Kahn said the five did not go to their jobs today Berto Construction and are out celebrating instead.
Americo Lopes will have to pay his five former co-workers $4 million each. Lopes cashed in the winning ticket in November of 2009 and won a post-tax payout of $24 million.
"They robbed me," Lopes told the New Jersey Star-Ledger after the verdict today.
The former construction worker said the winning ticket was one he had played personally.
Lopes purported that he had played his lucky "Canada number" on the winning ticket, something he had always done since winning $40 in the Canadian lottery.
The New Jersey man and his former co-workers at Berto Construction played the lottery once a week for three years. Each man chipped in $2, and Lopes would buy 12 tickets.
But when the winning numbers matched the ticket in Lopes' possession, he quietly went on leave for foot surgery and said he would be returning in the spring.
In March 2010, the newly minted millionaire told his co-workers he had won the lottery.
The congratulatory sentiment at Berto Construction turned sour when one of the frequent lottery players, Candido Silva Sr., discovered online the date of Lopes' win matched a date the group pooled tickets.
"I froze," Silva told the Star-Ledger. I didn't want to believe that these were the dates we were playing together."
Today the men are celebrating. Kahn said they haven't discussed quitting their jobs at the construction company.
"They're good, hard-working people," he said. "It's way too soon."
Although the story has a happy ending for Silva and his four other co-workers who were left out of the initial bounty, the New Jersey State Lottery offers guidelines on its website for participating in office pools.
Best practices include getting the names and phone numbers of everyone involved, especially individuals in charge of purchasing tickets as well as who is holding them. Players are also advised to know where their tickets are being purchased and to get copies of tickets they hold a stake in prior to the lottery drawing, including the serial numbers on the back of the tickets.