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Who Could Blow $640 Million?

Tales of mega-loss among lottery winners

By Rich_Maloof Mar 30, 2012 4:42PM

Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images News/Getty ImagesAt over $640,000,000 and climbing, tonight’s Mega-Millions draw promises the biggest lottery payday ever. It’s an incomprehensible number, really, and it’s equally hard to think of anything you couldn’t afford even after a few hundred mill goes to taxes. You could buy an island and a helicopter to get you there. You could bail your entire community out of debt. You could fill up your gas tank at least 8 or 10 times.

But does a lucky ticket amount to pennies from heaven or a deal with the devil? Beware that plenty of lottery winners past have been taken to unimaginable financial heights only to make spectacular and sometimes tragic falls. In case you’re the one to hit the numbers tonight, here are a few cautionary tales.

Abraham Shakespeare pegged the Florida Lottery in 2006 and took home a lump sum of  $17 million. Shakespeare was conservative with his winnings but, hounded by pleas for money, once told his brother, “I’d have been better off broke.” He had no idea how much better off: four years later his body was found under a concrete slab. A woman named DeeDee Moore, who had conned Shakespeare into a business deal and siphoned cash, professed innocence when questioned, but her defense began falling apart as authorities realized she was in possession of Shakespeare’s phone and had been texting his friends to pretend he was still alive.

Callie Rogers won a British lottery paying the equivalent of about USD $3 million at the tender and vulnerable age of 16. She bought homes for family members, but also burned untold thousands on vacations, clothes, and cars — and over $360,000 on cocaine. She has attempted suicide three times (found once, with bleeding wrists, by her drug dealer) and now lives at her mother’s house with her two children. At last report, Callie had less than $30,000 left in a bank account.  “I honestly wish I’d never won the lottery money,” Rogers said in a 2009 interview. “All that money has brought me is heartache.”

Billy Bob Harrell of Texas had a job stocking shelves in a Home Depot when he hit for $31 million in 1997. Deeply religious and kind-hearted, he lavished as much luxury on family and friends as he did on strangers and his beloved church. But Harrell’s life came undone as spending and lending took its toll: he once told a financial advisor, “Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Less than two years after becoming a multimillionaire, with his marriage in tatters, Harrell took his own life with a shotgun.

Andrew "Jack" Whittaker won the Powerball on Christmas of 2002 — at $314 million, the West Virginian had won the biggest undivided jackpot in lottery history. A do-gooder and instant celebrity, easily recognized in his ever-present black duds and cowboy hat, Jack hired three people just to open the letters begging him for money. Of the $113 million he took home, Jack gave away $14 million and spent at least another $45 million on his own. Jack also lost money to thieves and cons, but his greatest losses were more deeply personal. His drug-addled granddaughter, Brandi, who’d also been pursued for the fortune of her “Paw Paw,” died in 2004 at age 17. His daughter Ginger, mother to Brandi, died in 2009. Whittaker has also been sued by the Caesars casino in Atlantic City for bouncing $1.5 million in checks to cover gambling losses.

William “Bud” Post III won the Pennsylvania lottery for $16.2 million in 1988. Bud had been an orphan and a drifter, but his biggest problems came with the money. According to the Washington Post, his brother tried to hire a contract killer to take out Bud and his wife (his sixth wife). His landlady forced a third of his jackpot from his hand. Bud squandered his remaining fortune on cars, motorcycles, and a sailboat. When a debt collector knocked on the door of his crumbling mansion, which had windows covered with plywood and a pool filled with junk, Bud fired a shotgun at him. Bud served a prison sentence, and at the time of his death from respiratory failure in 2006 was living on a monthly $450 check for disability. Sloshing around his decrepit home, he once told an interviewer through false teeth, “I was much happier when I was broke.”

Good luck with your numbers.

Feb 7, 2013 5:42PM

this is crazy, why do they not make it a draw that many people can win ....share the wealth...it is stupid to have one set amount...break it up to many draws to give more chance to people to win


Feb 7, 2013 5:49AM

Let me win a big lottory and nobody will get anything.  It will all be spent on me and me alone, and the only thing I need is a new set of tires from my truck.  When I die I will have twice as much money as when I started and it will go to various charities of my choice.


Oct 22, 2012 4:39AM

Just shows that one first needs to have a financial advisor or money planner to help them figure out how to properly handle that windfall so it doesn't ruin their lives. It doesn't cost that much and it will help make that money last for not just their own life, but leave enough to support their children and grandchildren.

Oct 8, 2012 10:57PM
spend 95% on wine, women&gambling and the other 5% i would just waste
Oct 7, 2012 6:24AM
Why would anyone let the Lottery use their Name to promote buying lottery tickets.  Set up a Trust Fund with an Attorney to protect Your Identity First.  Inform the Lottery that if they even try to find out who You are You'll spend Half of Your Winnings Advertising how dumb You have to be to even buy a Lottery Ticket to start with.  Think of all the T.V. spots You could run, with starving Wives & Kids looking shabby, while You line up to spend the last Dollar on a Losing Lottery Ticket.  Can I have this Candy, NO, 3 more Tickets Please.
Sep 22, 2012 7:33AM
A sudden windfall will test your character, so be ready for it! You'll also have to learn to say No to some people but not all. You'll also have to learn how to be discerning, wise and patient. If you are an impulsive type you will probably end up broke. Best to practice saying No to yourself now rather than after the fact. Just because there are bad stories out there doesn't mean you have to have one yourself!
Sep 22, 2012 5:57AM
i definitely would go back to school and study till finishing my education without worrying of paying rent and foods. that's it.
Sep 22, 2012 5:36AM
I know that I would never win, I don't have that good of luck, but I would pay off some debts, give back to my community, and then go live off the grid in another country I think... but since I know that won't happen. I will continue to live homeless, have nothing, and know that most people live by greed.
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