If the three Maryland public school educators want to hold onto a sense of normalcy after Tuesday's announcement that they are splitting a share of the record-breaking Mega Millions jackpot, experts say they should stay tight-lipped.
For now, "The Three Amigos," as they call themselves, have allowed lottery officials to reveal only the barest details about their identities: a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s, and a woman in her 50s. The Marylanders work in three different schools, as a special education teacher, an elementary school teacher and a school administrative worker.
Each of them will have a $35 million lump-sum payment wired to their bank account in the next two weeks — and they would be pummeled with requests to spend the money if their identities were known, experts say. Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett, who won $32.6 million in 2007, and now has only about half of the money left, says if he had to do it over, he would remain anonymous.
Charities, scammers and relatives who feel entitled to the money are among those who could approach the winners with their hands out, Lowell Herman, chair of the trusts and estates group at the Baltimore-based Gordon Feinblatt law firm, warned. The winners should assemble a team of trusted advisers, including legal counsel, to help protect their fortune — and their secret, he said.
"A good adviser, more than anything, can turn into a good armchair psychologist," said Herman, whose firm has counseled lottery winners in the past. "Just like you see with athletes and movie stars, that money could be gone quickly; the wealth could disappear suddenly."
Stephen Martino, director of the Maryland Lottery, said the Maryland winners have a good chance of keeping their anonymity. Only one of the Maryland's eight Mega Millions jackpot winners had agreed to be identified.
"It depends on how you conduct yourself, how discreet you are with the information," Martino said.
In the past year alone, the state had two Powerball jackpot winners — $128.8 million in December and $108.8 million in September — and both wanted to remain anonymous, a protection available under state law.
"To my knowledge they have never been identified in the media," Martino said.
But that didn't stop the guessing game Tuesday about the latest winners.
Abby Beytin, president of the Baltimore County teachers union, said they were rumored to be county educators. "Everyone is trying to figure it out," she said.
Orrester Shaw, special assistant for faith-based and education affairs for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, said his strategy for identifying the winners was to see "who didn't show up for work today."
The strategy may not uncover the trio — they planned to go to work this week, lottery officials said.
That didn't surprise Beytin, who said, "Teachers never do it for the money. It is like an artist. ... For teachers and people in education it is to make a difference."
Each winner's share is a third of the $105 million cash option available after taxes from the $656 million jackpot. The state will collect $13.4 million in income taxes.
Two other jackpot-winning tickets were sold in Kansas and Illinois. The Kansas winner came forward Friday and also chose to remain anonymous. No one has claimed the prize in Illinois.
The three Maryland winners have acknowledged letting some of their relatives know, Martino said. One of the winners told lottery officials that she drove the winning ticket to her mother's house at 1 a.m. on March 31, a couple of hours after the winning numbers were drawn.
The three had pooled their money to buy 60 tickets at three locations, including the 7-Eleven on Liberty Road in Milford Mill where the winning ticket was purchased at 7:15 p.m. on March 30.
On the night of the drawing, the youngest of the winners had the tickets laid out on her floor as she watched the drawing.
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