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Why we still don't know all the winners of the US$1.5 billion Powerball jackpot

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Friedrich Mayrhofer was just a plane ride away from becoming 50 million Canadian dollars richer. But he waited almost two years to make it.

[WASHINGTON] Friedrich Mayrhofer was just a plane ride away from becoming 50 million Canadian dollars richer. But he waited almost two years to make it.

The winner of the March 2014 Lotto Max jackpot said he was worried about how the sudden influx of cash - and the celebrity that came with it - might affect his family's quiet life in the modest municipality of Langley, British Columbia.

"Money is nice, but the priority is my family," he told the Langley Times in December.

For 21 months, while BC residents speculated about the lottery's mysterious unnamed winners, Mayrhofer discreetly worked to find a way to claim his prize anonymously. He mused about the money's impact and muddled through logistics with lawyers and financial advisers. Finally, just before the deadline to declare he'd won, Mayrhofer signed over the ticket to a trust with unnamed beneficiaries and sent a lawyer to Toronto to collect the prize - but Lotto Max wouldn't hand over a check. Lottery winnings have to be claimed by individuals, the organization said.

Finally, reluctantly, Mayrhofer made the trip to Toronto to accept his winnings last year. Now he's US$50 million Canadian dollars richer, but no less discreet; when asked what he might do with the money, he told the Langley Times that his family plans to renovate their home, buy some new furniture and "maybe take a sunny vacation" - you know, if there's room in the budget.

Though it rarely takes 21 months, it often takes longer than you'd think for lotteries to give away life-changing sums of money. We still don't know two of the winners of Powerball's US$1.5 billion jackpot, a week after the drawing. Whoever they are, whatever their reasoning, they're taking their time before claiming part of the biggest lottery payout in US history.

That's normal, most experts say."A lot of (lottery winners) want to get their ducks in order," Tony Bitonti, a spokesperson for the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, told CTV after a US$64 million jackpot went unclaimed for two weeks. "They want to talk to financial advisers, they want to talk to lawyers and to family members, because it is US$64 million - it's life-changing."

In fact, it's Linda and John Robinson - the drawing's only named winners - who are unusual. The Mumford, Tenn., couple appeared on the "Today" show with their winning ticket even before submitting it to the Tennessee Lottery.

Didn't that seem, well, unwise, host Carson Daly wondered: "You're holding a ticket that could be worth north of US$500 million dollars in your front pocket, you're walking around New York City, I'm nervous for you.""Now I'll be nervous," John Robinson admitted, "because everybody knows." The two other winners, in Florida and California, have 180 days and a year, respectively, to claim their shares of the jackpot (prizes unclaimed by then are donated to education programs). If they're holding out for fear of fame, they're out of luck; both states require winners be named in a press conference.

That can be troubling for winners. In 1984, Mike Wittkowski won US$40 million in the Illinois Lotto - the largest jackpot ever handed out to an American at the time. He told the Chicago Tribune thirty years later that teenage girls would throng on his front lawn in the wake of the announcement, while strangers sent in a bomb threat and more than 1,000 letters asking for a share of the cash."I had a lady who wrote me a 21-page typed letter and said she was down to her last US$20, but she sent it to me registered mail," Wittkowski said. "It cost her US$19 just to send the letter." Sometimes, winners wait so they can orchestrate their big announcement. That's what B. Raymond Buxton did when he won Powerball back in 2014.

Six weeks after the winning numbers were drawn, Buxton appeared with his lawyer, his accountant and a public relations consultant, California Lottery spokesperson Alex Traverso told the Los Angeles Times."He had taken some time as to how he wanted to do it, down to the shirt he wore," Traverso said.

The shirt, which bore a picture of Yoda from "Star Wars" read: "Luck of the Jedi I have." The sartorial choice was only a small distraction from the fact that you couldn't see Buxton's face. At the news conference, he obscured it with his oversized check for US$242.2 million, the Times reported.

Then there's the strange case of Andy Ashkar, a Syracuse, N.Y., man who stepped forward in 2012 to claim the US$5 million prize for a lottery ticket he said he'd bought at his parents' convenience store six years earlier.

It was initially reported that Ashkar waited so long because he was afraid of how his newfound wealth might change his life."Andy Ashkar also told lottery officials that he also didn't want the windfall to influence his engagement and subsequent marriage," the Associated Press reported.

Soon, though, it came out that Ashkar had not, in fact, bought that winning ticket. In 2013, Andy Ashkar was sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for stealing that ticket from a customer at his parents' store, according to the Syracuse Post-Standard.

During Ashkar's trial, the man claiming to be the ticket's rightful owner, Robert Miles, testified that he took the ticket to the Green Ale Market in 2006 while high on illegal drugs. Ashkar told Miles that the ticket was worth US$5,000, and he gave Miles just US$4,000 of that. The other amount was kept as the store's cut, Miles said.

Miles, who was drowning in debt at the time, filed bankruptcy two years later."There wasn't a day go by that I didn't think about how my life would've been," he told The Post-Standard in 2012.

The maintenance worker was recognized as the true winner in August 2013, the Syracuse paper reported."From the beginning, we wanted to get Robert Miles his money," Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick told the Post-Standard at the time. "I'm very happy that I can say today that we succeeded."

WP