When Americo Lopes retired from his construction job in November 2009 because he needed foot surgery, his friends at work had little reason to doubt him. However, several months later, Lopes confided in one colleague his real reason for his sudden resignation: he had scooped a lottery jackpot of $38.5 million.
There was one snag: Lopes had bought the ticket as part of a six-man pool at his workplace, and the man he confessed to was in that pool. For years, Lopes and five of his workmates would combine their money, and Lopes would diligently buy the Mega Millions tickets. When their winning numbers came up in late-2009, Lopes told nobody but lottery officials.
On Wednesday, a jury in Union County ordered Mr. Lopes to divide the winnings equally between himself and his five former co-workers. After taxes, the total kept by Lopes was $17,433,966. That translates as $2,905,661 per man.
It seems Lopes would have gotten away with his treacherous act if he had simply kept quiet. Yet his March 2010 confession to one of the group set tongues wagging, and further research unearthed a website with Lopes’s name, revealing he had hit the jackpot. One of the betrayed co-workers, Candido Silva Jr., admitted, “We believed him.”
Lopes himself was clearly aggrieved, telling The Star-Ledger of Newark, “They robbed me.” The 52-year-old Portuguese-American stated repeatedly during the trial that he had bought the winning ticket on his own, separate from any tickets he had purchased for the group. He insisted that he often bought tickets for himself when he went to buy the pool’s ticket.
Jose Sousa, 46, another man of the group Lopes is said to have cheated, remarked, “We trusted him. He cheated us.” He said the the jury’s decision “proved that we’re not lying. This is the most important thing.”
61-year-old Candido Silva Sr. cried on the witness stand, while his son, Mr. Silva Jr., said the verdict was what the group had expected. While he and his co-workers enjoyed a celebratory meal, he told press, “If you have a clear conscience, you have nothing to worry about.”
The five men said they had considered Lopes a close friend for years. I’m guessing they no longer feel quite as chummy.