California couple claims prize in record Powerball jackpot

CHINO HILLS, Calif. – While Californians have mused for months about the mystery buyer of a Powerball ticket worth $528.8 million, the couple holding the lucky numbers was busy lining up lawyers and financial advisers to help them handle their enormous winnings.

Flanked by security, Marvin and Mae Acosta went to a state lottery office in Van Nuys on Friday to claim their share of a record $1.6 billion Powerball drawing in January, Alex Traverso, a California lottery spokesman, disclosed on Tuesday.

In a statement, the Acostas said they are dedicating nearly all of the prize money to a trust and charities.

“We are thankful and blessed for the rare gift that has been placed in our care,” they said.

Their names are public record under state law, but Traverso said the young couple with two children has requested that other personal information remain private.

Many Californians might have difficulty understanding why the couple would sit on such a mega-prize for so long. But that kind of studied preparation is exactly what state lottery officials recommend for winners to avoid falling prey to scams or mismanagement.

“We couldn’t be happier for them and are thrilled they took the time to assemble the right team before coming in to claim,” California Lottery Director Hugo Lopez said in a statement.

The Acostas will take their winnings in a cash option totalling $327.8 million before federal taxes, lottery officials said.

Property records show a couple with the same names purchased a 5-bedroom home for $475,000 last fall in Eastvale, a Southern California community about 10 miles from the 7-Eleven where the winning ticket was purchased. A neighbour said the couple who lived there had two children and moved out last Thursday, a day before the prize was claimed.

The Acostas bought their ticket six months ago at the convenience store in Chino Hills, California, a quiet community about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. It was one of three winning tickets sold for the Jan. 13 drawing. Winners in Florida and Tennessee came forward within days to claim their prize money.

Word that one of the winning tickets was sold in California brought excited crowds in January to the 7-Eleven. Gawkers crowded the store and parking lot, mugging for TV cameras and chanting the city’s name in celebration of its sudden celebrity.

Store owner Balbir Atwal said Tuesday he doesn’t know the Acostas by name. However, their good fortune has been a boon for him as well. He collected $1 million from the state lottery for selling the winning ticket and his lottery sales are up 80 per cent at the 7-Eleven.

“Everybody is like, this is a lucky place so everybody comes here to play,” he said.

Renie Alano, a 65-year-old retiree, is one of them. He made a special stop Tuesday to pick up lottery tickets.

“The lucky store is always favourable, you know?” he said. “Everybody goes to where it’s hitting. I think that’s the best way to do it.”

The Tennessee winners were a small-town couple, John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, who also took the lump sum payment. They said they didn’t intend to stop working — John as a warehouse supervisor and Lisa at a dermatologist’s office — and would stay in their one-story house. They planned to pay off their mortgage and their daughter’s student loans.

The Florida winners, David Kaltschmidt and Maureen Smith of Melbourne Beach, took the lump sum as well. Kaltschmidt said he would retire from his job as a manufacturing engineer but wouldn’t otherwise change his day-to-day life.

Smith, who identified herself as a homemaker, said she was concerned that winning might make her less friendly because of all the worrying.

— Associated Press writer John Antczak in Los Angeles contributed to this report.