Some people can't believe David Spillane's luck when it comes to the state lottery.
"People come up to me and say congratulations. How come you win over and over?" Spillane, a lawyer from Hanover, said in a recent interview.
Five times since Jan. 1, Spillane has gone to Massachusetts State Lottery headquarters in Braintree to claim a winning ticket. The total windfall to date is $6 million.
Each time, the state Lottery has distributed to the press and posted on its website the standard grip-and-grin photo of Spillane holding a large mock-up of the winning ticket and an actual check for the winnings.
The truth is that, while Spillane is the one holding the checks, they're never made out to him. Each time, he is a stand-in for the winners.
Lottery winnings are a public record. Win a big enough prize and the Lottery will distribute your name and photo to the media. But if a winner forms a type of legal trust prior to claiming the prize, the Lottery will publicize the name of that trust, not the names of any individuals involved in it.
Winners still get the money, but they don't have to deal with the resulting loss of privacy that comes from being publicly identified as being suddenly flush with cash.
Spillane points to the example of Mavis Wanczyk of Chicopee, who last year won a record $758 million in a Powerball drawing. Her one-time payout was $336.3 million after taxes.
Not long after the prize was announced, state officials issued warnings about a slew of scam accounts on social media impersonating Wanczyk. Meanwhile, Chicopee police increased patrols around the winner's home, with officers often pulling into her driveway to do paperwork. Even so, there were a few reports of strangers wandering through the neighborhood, knocking on the doors of her neighbors.
To avoid these types of trouble, winners can choose to form a nominee trust, a legal arrangement in which one or more people appoint someone to act on their behalf. This person, the trustee, is listed on the legal title and other documents, but all beneficiaries remain confidential.
In the case of Lottery winnings, the trustee turns in the winning ticket, receives a check, and deposits it into a bank account set up for the beneficiaries. After that, the trust arrangement more or less concludes.
Spillane has been in the nominee trust business for 15 years or so. The first prize he claimed on behalf of a trust was in 2003, he said.
His work, from beginning to end, usually takes a just a few hours. The most complicated part of it is setting up a tax identification number for the ticket holder. Spillane is paid his regular hourly rate, and not a percentage of any winnings.
"I go to the Lottery, claim the ticket, go to the bank, open an account, and give the winner the money," he said.
And he has to pose for the photograph, which is sent out to the media and posted on the Lottery website.
Spillane said he has probably set up 17 lottery trusts, including a $15 million winner in 2015. He accepted a one-time payout in the form of a $9.75 million check on behalf of the WCM Nominee Trust of Hanover.
The work, he said, comes in spurts. This year has been busy with five trusts, but he didn't have a single lottery client in 2017.
The use of trusts has increased significantly as more and more winners look to avoid the spotlight.
In 2010, according to Lottery data, trusts accounted for nine of 332 grand prizes claimed. That works out to 2.7 percent. By 2017, trusts made up 43 of the 422 grand prizes, or 10.2 percent.
Through April 25 of this year, 17 of 135 grand prizes were claimed by trusts, or 12.6 percent.
For all but one of the 17 trust winners, the prize has been claimed by a lawyer. Spillane handled five of them.
The one nonlawyer trustee was Jenna Russell of Hopedale, who won a $1 million Second Chance prize in the Lottery's Ultimate Millions game. Russell claimed the prize on behalf of the Otto Educational Trust, which was named after her bulldog.
Spillane emphasized that forming a trust to claim a prize is legal and no one is trying to pull a fast one. These are people, he said, who simply want to remain private.
"Each story is different. Everyone who does this has their own reasons. There are all kinds of different reasons," he said.
He represented one couple who didn't even want their kids to know. They had been planning to build a house on Cape Cod anyway, and after winning the Lottery they made the house a little bigger and their mortgage payments a little smaller. "And no one knew any different," Spillane said.
Lottery spokesman Christian Teja said the secrecy involving trusts only has to do with public disclosure. All members of a trust are required to be identified by the Lottery for its internal records.
The Lottery runs the names of those in a trust past other state agencies, including the state Department of Revenue, the Child Support Enforcement Division, Office of the State Comptroller and the Department of Transitional Assistance. A review is conducted to see if any of the names owe the state money for child support, income taxes, tuition and fees at state colleges, or Mass Health payments. Anyone on the list has the amount owed garnished from their winnings.
Policies vary from state to state insofar as lottery winners being allowed to remain anonymous. Six states -- Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and South Carolina -- allow lottery winners to remain anonymous.
There are a number of other states that, like Massachusetts, allow trusts to claim winnings as long as a representative of the trust publicly comes forward to claim it. These include Colorado, Connecticut and Vermont.
Some states, like Illinois and Oregon, allow a winner to remain anonymous if the person can demonstrate that public disclosure would expose them to a high risk of harm.
In Massachusetts, state Sen. Mark Montigny, D-New Bedford, last year filed a bill that would make a Lottery winner's name, address and any other identifying information exempt from state public records laws. It would also direct the Lottery not to publicly disclose winners' identities, or require winners "to perform any public actions in connection with awarding payment or the collection of prize moneys." The bill was forwarded to the Senate Rules Committee in August, and has not been acted upon.
There are numerous reports over the years of lottery winners being swindled, or blowing it all quickly, or of being harassed and hassled by people with sob stories and outstretched palms. Local journalists know there is practically no lag time between when someone claims a big prize and when they change their phone number.
Teja said the Lottery's philosophy is that providing the name and photo of major prize winners is in keeping with its desire to operate transparently.
"Providing a public record of winners is important to the integrity and public trust of our games," he said.
Spillane said he feels the opposite. The publicity and loss of privacy that comes with a big payout is not worth it.
"Look at that lady in Chicopee. Ask her what her life was like after she won," he said. "It was not good. She had police cars outside of her house for months."
Spillane said for him the question isn't why trusts are becoming more popular. The question is what took so long.
"Why would I want you to know my financial information?" he said. "Why is that your business?"
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