A trial in Union County, N.J., is pitting five construction workers against their former colleague in what the group says was the man's attempt to deceive them of their share of nearly $40 million in lottery winnings.
The five workers sued their colleague, Americo Lopes (pictured, left, with his wife,, after he won the Mega Millions jackpot in November 2009. They allege Lopes collected $2 from each man to buy 12 tickets, a custom the group had established, the day before the drawing, according to a report in The Star-Ledger of Newark. But, they say, Lopes said nothing to them about winning and then made off with the winnings.
Eric Kahn, an attorney representing the workers, told jurors during an opening statement at the trial Tuesday that the case was about "trust and personal responsibility."
Kahn noted that Lopes left work two days after winning the lottery, telling his boss he needed to have foot surgery, but told no one about winning the lottery. He also filed for unemployment, as is typical for construction workers during the off-season, the Star-Ledger notes.
"A man claims a $24 million lottery prize, doesn't tell anyone, and applies for unemployment," the newspaper quotes Kahn as saying to the jury. "He did that so everyone would believe nothing was different."
For his part, Lopes contends he played the lottery both for himself and as a member of the pool. He claims the winning ticket was one he bought for himself, despite it being one of 12 purchased, the same number the group routinely bought. Lopes wound up collecting $24 million, since he elected to take a lump-sum payout.
Lopes' attorney, Michael Mezzacca, told jurors that his client's actions after realizing he held a winning ticket don't indicate that he sought to deceive the others.
"The fact that he concealed that he won doesn't mean he took the money," Mezzacca told the court.
Should the jury find in favor of the five plaintiffs, they will be awarded $4 million each, or a sixth of the $24 million prize Lopes collected.
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