The story of the Mega Millions winner who lost $83 million to her New York attorney
A South Carolina woman bagged a $1.5 billion fortune but was pushed into fraudulent investments with links to organised crime.
A New York attorney has been found guilty of defrauding lottery-winning clients out of tens of millions of dollars. The self-proclaimed ‘Lottery Lawyer’ Jason Kurland was convicted last month on five counts of wire fraud, honest services wire fraud and money laundering.
Manhattan Attorney Damian Williams, whose office prosecuted the case, said Kurland used his position “to steer his clients to invest millions of dollars in companies that he secretly owned and took illegal kickbacks based on his clients’ investments without their knowledge.”
The biggest victim was a South Carolina woman who is thought to have lost around $87 million as a result of Kurland’s deception. This is her story…
A middle-aged woman from Carolina, who testified under the pseudonym Beth Smith, discovered that a Mega Millions ticket she had purchased the day before had landed her a jackpot of $1.5 billion. It was the largest single-ticket lotto win in US history and she felt a mix of “astonishment, disbelief, joy, anxiety,” according to her court testimony.
She and her husband were in their late 50s and decided to stash the ticket away until they knew how to proceed. They wanted to remain anonymous and realised they needed professional advice to deal with such a huge amount of money.
“We considered attorneys. We considered financial advisors. We considered accountants. We considered, you know, investment firms; that kind of thing,” she said.
They saw Kurland appear on a morning television show and, despite finding his ‘Lottery Lawyer’ moniker gimmicky, decided that he was best-placed to offer assistance.
After calling him from a burner phone in December 2018, Kurland helped the couple collect their winnings, organising a meeting with the South Carolina Lottery Commission to claim the prize. They opted for the cash jackpot of $878 million before taxes, with Kurland netting a healthy $200,000 fee for his consultation.
The money was deposited into various bank accounts, in Kurland’s name, to provide the anonymity that the couple coveted. After making a series of charitable donations to numerous charities, the winners decided to invest some of the rest, adamant that it should be done in a very conservative way.
Smith said: “My husband and I believed this was — this blessing was going to be provided — to my family and generate — and we would have it generationally. So, we didn’t need to take any, any risk in doing that.”
They agreed to pay Kurland a monthly fee of $50,000 for his services and handed over control of their money to him. He soon began to push investment opportunities, in firms called JBMML and Cheddar Capital, worth tens of millions of dollars. The interest from those investments would be deposited into a fund called Cedar Ridge Partnership which was to provide a monthly income of $12,500 apiece for ten close family members.
However as time went on suspicions were aroused about the legitimacy of Kurland’s investment proposals. He had pushed them to purchase three thoroughbred race horses for around $1 million. Payments to family members became very irregular, and the amounts received were not as promised.
Most worryingly of all, they were advised by the FBI that a diamond merchant who had received $12.6 million of their lottery winnings was being investigated.
Kurland attempted to calm their fears but soon the merchant, Kurland himself and three others involved in the investments were arrested. The FBI described diamond merchant Greg Altieri’s business as a Ponzi scheme.
Once Kurland was arrested the couple’s attempts to untangle the web of investments gathered pace and they discovered that he had been earning a 1% finders fees on many of the deals. He owned a stake in both JBMML and Cheddar, the two firms in which they had invested originally. Only two race horses were ever purchased and, most shockingly of all, he was found to have taken $19.5 million from the account without consulting Smith.
It transpired that the Lottery Lawyer had been using his clients as a personal piggy bank, allowing him to fund a lavish lifestyle and make good on previous deals he had made in the murky world of organised crime.
“Kurland and his associates were accused of siphoning lottery winnings to pay for boats, luxury cars, country club memberships, and other clichés. Oh, and one of the crew threatened to murder the family of a man who turned out, inconveniently, to be a federal informant,” read a pre-trial report in Bloomberg News.
In total the Lottery Lawyer is thought to have cost his clients around $107 million and Jane Smith lost around $83 million to him and his associates. When asked in court if she believed there was more she could have done, any greater precaution she could have exercised, to avoid the scams, she was clear.
“Oh, I don’t believe that at all. I think they would have happened, regardless of the number of questions I asked,” she said.