Lottery veterans question Tennessee family's behavior before claiming Powerball winnings

Jan 16, 2016, 2:58 pm (162 comments)


California and Florida winners should learn from mistakes made by Tennessee winners

Godspeed, John and Lisa Robinson of Munford, Tenn. 

The 50-somethings may have been Average Joes a day ago, but not after Friday morning when they revealed themselves on national television as big time winners in this week's record-breaking lottery.

The Robinsons' decision to fly to New York City to appear on NBC's "Today" show several hours before claiming their stake in the Powerball jackpot left some lottery veterans uneasy about the couple's exposure.

"It's a good example of what not to do," said Jason Kurland, a New York attorney who has represented several jackpot winners.

"I definitely would not have recommended that — very ill-advised for a number of reasons," Karen Gerstner, a Houston attorney who has worked with 48 lottery winners, said in an email. "Now, every long-lost relative and friend will approach them with a sob story, asking for money, and all the 'financial crooks' will come after them."

The Robinsons, along with their adult daughter, Tiffany Robinson, and Memphis attorney Joe Townsend and his daughter, Eileen Townsend, appeared on the morning news show where John Robinson pulled a folded lottery ticket from his shirt pocket and told a national TV audience that he was one of three winners of Wednesday's world-record $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot.

"Shocking," said Danielle Mayoras, a Michigan estate planning attorney and co-author of the bookTrial & Heirs. "Putting it out there on the 'Today' show before you even make the claim, before you even get everything in order, was extremely surprising. It really put the lottery ticket as well as the family at risk."

To collect their riches — a lump sum of nearly $328 million after taxes — the Robinsons needed to go the lottery office in Nashville, which they did after leaving New York.

"Flying back and forth to New York when you have to submit the ticket and make the claim in Tennessee may not be the best idea," Mayoras told Yahoo News. "Whether you're carrying around a Powerball-winning ticket or not, we all know when you go to a big city there's things that can happen. People lose things, and traveling and everything else."

"Today" anchor Savannah Guthrie even seemed surprised by the Robinsons' desire to make a big splash.

"Why, though, did you decide not to go to the lottery officials yet and come to us first?" Guthrie asked during the interview.

"Well actually, it was his idea," replied John Robinson, pointing to his attorney, who was standing behind him.

Townsend, a longtime Memphis bankruptcy and divorce lawyer, explained how he enlisted his daughter, a local writer who covers the Memphis arts scene, to call NBC and get them on the "Today" show. Eileen Townsend described how she Google-searched NBC's phone number and talked her way past the switchboard.

"They were rightly a little bit suspicious," Eileen said. "We talked through it and decided to make it happen."

Townsend, wearing a suit and bright orange tie, said the Manhattan media appearance only 33 hours after the lottery drawing was his way of trying to control the Robinsons' story.

"I think the American public wants to hear from them," Townsend said on the show. "Even though they want to be private after this is over, they want to, you know, let the public know that they're the winners."

But the publicity plan appears to have backfired somewhat. Reporters raced to Munford, a bedroom community of 6,000 north of Memphis, to interview the Robinsons' friends and family.

Neighbor Mary Sue Smith told the Memphis Commerical Appeal that Lisa Robinson, 53, had called after stepping off the "Today" set to request a favor.

"They were asking us to put up some 'No trespassing' signs in their yard," Smith said.

Within hours, a handful of people had shared a 2014 family photo from Lisa Robinson's Facebook page.

"This is the family in Munford that won the Power Ball Jackpot," a woman in Mississippi wrote on Facebook. "CONGRATS TO YOU."

The City of Munford also celebrated the Robinsons' windfall with a number of posts on its Facebook page. While most residents congratulated the family, a few couldn't resist the opportunity to offer suggestions.

"So happy for you," one woman wrote in a comment. "Sorry, can't help myself — please remember Tipton County Animal Shelter can always use a helping hand. Many wonderful furbabies there."

Kurland, who has represented winners of $254 million and $336 million Powerball jackpots, said he advises his clients to scrub their social media accounts and have a plan to disappear for several days once they claim their fortunes. But John Robinson, a warehouse supervisor, and Lisa Robinson, who works at a doctor's office, both said they planned to be at their jobs Monday morning.

"The rest of your life, people are going to be looking for handouts and asking questions and trying to hit you up for charities and investment opportunities," Kurland told Yahoo News. "I think it's going to hit them hard when they realize how famous, at least for 15 minutes, they've now become, when they could have controlled that a little bit more."

The Robinsons, who made it back to Tennessee to submit their winning ticket Friday afternoon, could have taken up to six months to redeem their prize. Tennessee Lottery rules also permit jackpots to be claimed in the name of a trust for more privacy.

"The short time between the day you win and the day you claim is your last chance at any normalcy," said Kurland, who offers a checklist of first steps on "So you're better off sitting back and thinking about what you want to do, how to properly effectuate your estate planning, rather than parading around on the 'Today' show."

At a press conference Friday afternoon in Nashville, John Robinson, a warehouse supervisor, and his wife, who works at a doctor's office, said they hoped the family could now enjoy their good fortune in peace.

"We're common people," John, 58, said. "We're just like y'all are."

"... and ask that our privacy is respected," Lisa added.

News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

Yahoo, Lottery Post Staff


s5thomps's avatars5thomps

How do you expect to request privacy and the first thing you do is go to the TODAY show and now every Tom, Dick and Harry knows where you live?? The vultures will be out in no time! Remains to be seen but they absolutely made a mistake going to the media. At the end of the day it's their choice to make.

No Pity!

Abdi's avatarAbdi

Honestly,I do not see anything wrong with Tennesse Jackpot winners!

They wanted to use the opportunity to be well known people in the globe.They knew the whole World was asking one question "Who are the most luckiest People on earth?"

travelintrucker's avatartravelintrucker

Amateurs. Uninformed amateurs. We may witness the next Jack Whitaker/Billie Bob Harrell.

travelintrucker's avatartravelintrucker

They honestly think they are going to be able to keep their jobs?! Look at what happened to Brad Duke; and he didn't win nearly as much money as they did.


Good luck to these people.   They may want to consider getting a different attorney.  Lol.


I agree, broadcasting this to the world may only bring heartache and misery. Money doesn't really buy you happiness, rather buys you freedom. That freedom may be unnecessary  hampered.


Oi! They need to dump that attorney asap and get some real advice. Call up WE or Caprock or one of the other no-commission, non-bank affiliated, non-investment house affiliated Family Office firms. You are in the big leagues now folks, you don't want to use the lawyer that helped with Nana's will or the one that you used to sue the doctor that screwed up the operation on your crotch. You need a senior partner in one of the big top nationwide firms.

And I get that going to work is what you've always done but really it isn't worth your time anymore. Ultra conservatively invested you both essentially have a $1700/hour job forever. And reasonably invested there is no reason you can't bring in 2x or 3x that amount. Is your time better spent planning, educating yourself, and executing that or spending your day at whatever $20-25/hour job you had before you won? I know this country fetishizes the idea of lazy good for nothing rich people who only exist to be taxed but properly running a fortune the size of the one you now have is more then enough work for a person. And it can be very good, emotionally rewarding work at that.

Personally I'd love to create jobs for all my friends and family. Sure I'd be out to make more money but if I could do that while at the same time providing good jobs with great pay and benefits to folks I know I'd find that very rewarding.

TnTicketlosers's avatarTnTicketlosers

A cry for attention from Them and the CEO of Tn,,she wants all she can get.If all of the US knew what she was doing to Tn people she wouldnt be very liked at all.She is hated here.She is a crook and scamming bad person.

GGStarlings's avatarGGStarlings

Quote: Originally posted by travelintrucker on Jan 16, 2016

Amateurs. Uninformed amateurs. We may witness the next Jack Whitaker/Billie Bob Harrell.

The Uninformed should at least have a GOOD ATTORNEY.  Unhappy


Yikes! That whole situation sounds like a disaster.


Attorney gave them some bad advice. How soon before Joe Townsend and his daughter Eileen end up with most of the Robinson's money?

zephbe's avatarzephbe

What lawyer never heard of claiming a huge lottery win thru a trust?  They need to fire him and get another lawyer with common sense.  They need to move and get unlisted numbers.  They can forget privacy, normalcy after announcing to the world they just won the lottery.


What's up with that lawyer anyway?

RJOh's avatarRJOh

These people hired a lawyer and followed his advice which proves even if you hire a lawyer you still have to do some of the thinking yourself.

dpoly1's avatardpoly1

Their attorney is nuts

NOT the way to stay out of the "limelight"

Hit With Stick

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