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$38.5 million lotto winner cheated co-workers out of jackpot, court rules

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Americo Lopes leaves a New Jersey courtroom on Wednesday (AP)

For most people, sharing a $38.5 million lottery jackpot with five co-workers is a deal they could live with. But it was apparently too much for Americo Lopes, who a jury found guilty of cheating his colleagues out of their rightful share of winnings.

Lopes and his co-workers at a New Jersey construction company took part in a lottery pool going back to 2007. But in 2009, when Lopes discovered he had the winning Mega Millions ticket, he claimed to have purchased the winning numbers on his own, rather than as part of the company pool.

After a unanimous jury decision on Wednesday, Lopes must now pay each co-worker a pretax $2 million from the jackpot, according to a spokeswoman for the Superior Court in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

The Star-Ledger reports that Lopes left the courtroom saying in Portuguese, "they robbed me."

The five former co-workers testified that they gave Lopes money to purchase lottery tickets on the day he purchased the winning ticket. A sixth construction worker who was not in the lottery pool also testified against Lopes. "I have a lot to do," Carlos Fernandez, one of the five plaintiffs, told the Star-Ledger after the verdict was announced.

Still, for all his complaining of being "robbed," it could have been worse for Lopes, who stood to lose up to $20 million of his after-tax $24 million in winnings.

Winning the lottery has been a mixed blessing for a number of past winners. Just last week, a Michigan lottery winner fell under intense scrutiny when it was revealed she was still accepting food stamps despite being a millionaire. The day after Yahoo! News reported on her story, the Michigan Bridge Card program stepped in and removed her from the welfare program.

On the other hand, a number of other lottery winners have voluntarily chosen to share their lottery winnings with family, friends and the less fortunate. Last month, we told you about several repeat Georgia lottery winners who have given away substantial portions of their jackpot winnings.

Winning the lottery can even be fatal in some extreme cases. In 1996, Jeffrey Dampier famously won $20 million in the Illinois state lottery, using some of his money to help family and friends. But when Dampier offered to help his sister-in-law and her boyfriend out financially, they rewarded his generosity by kidnapping and murdering him.

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