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N.J. man cheated co-workers out of $38-million jackpot, jury says

Americo Lopes was the guy who ran the lottery pool among his fellow construction workers in Elizabeth, N.J. He’s also the guy who tried to swindle them out of a $38.5-million jackpot, a jury ruled Wednesday.

The jury awarded five of Lopes’ co-workers a total of $20 million -- or $4 million apiece. Jurors rejected Lopes’ claim that the winning ticket belonged to him and him alone, not a pool ticket he’d purchased along with his co-workers.

Those co-workers were elated Wednesday with the Union County Superior Court jury’s decision, and joyously embraced one another. Lopes? Not so much.

“They robbed me,” Lopes was quoted as saying in Portuguese, according to the Associated Press. He and his wife quickly left the courtroom after the jury’s decision.

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Lopes and his former friends had worked together at Berto Construction Inc. in Elizabeth. And they had been playing the lottery together since 2007. On Nov. 10, 2009, Lopes was holding one of two lottery tickets that won the $77-million jackpot.

Lopes opted for the lump sum, which gave him $24 million.

He mentioned none of this when he arrived at work two days later. But he did inform his boss that he needed an extended period of time off for foot surgery, according to NJ.com, which cited the civil complaint. When Lopes, 52, returned to work in March, it was just long enough to tell his boss that he’d won the lottery and was quitting his job.

And that’s when his co-workers suspected something was fishy.

Lopes claimed the ticket was a personal ticket, not a pool ticket. Moreover, he said he didn’t collect money from his co-workers for that Nov. 10, 2009, drawing.

Key to the case was the testimony of a sixth construction worker who was not a party to the lawsuit. He testified that he saw the men all pool their money to buy lottery tickets on the day of the winning drawing, according to NJ.com. (Perhaps the plaintiffs will throw a few bucks in his direction.)

Now, how to protect your lottery pool against a scheming co-worker? Here’s what we do at The Times:

The dutiful pool organizer buys tickets in advance, lines them up on the office copier, copies them on a sheet of paper, and then hands a copy of the sheet to everyone who chipped in. That way, there’s no room for shenanigans -- everyone has a copy of the lottery numbers in advance of the drawing.

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Wait a second. Did I say “office copier?”

No. We definitely DO NOT use the office copier.

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