(NEW YORK) — As millions of hopeful Americans line up to buy winning Powerball lottery tickets for the $320 million prize today, one former Mega Millions winner who banked $190 million and then vanished from her small town and the public eye is still trying to come to terms with her winnings.
Holly Lahti won the $190 million Mega Millions jackpot in January 2011, a moment that most lottery players hope will be the happiest of their lives. Within days, however, a mug shot of Lahti sporting a black eye and bruises, along with a mug shot of her estranged husband, Joshua, had become the image the world associated with America’s newest millionaire.
Lahti, who worked at a bank in her small hometown of Rathdrum, Idaho, went into hiding. She gave no public statements about the lottery winnings, quit her job, asked the media not to contact her, disconnected her phone numbers, and eventually moved from Rathdrum without a trace.
Brad Wilde, who managed the convenience store in Post Falls, Idaho, where Lahti bought her winning ticket, said that she and her husband had left town and no one knew where they went. Wilde told ABC News earlier this year that he had heard Lahti moved to Hawaii and her husband to California to go to college, though he wasn’t sure he believed either of the rumors.
Workers at Lahti’s former employer, Inland Northwest Bank in Post Falls, told ABC that Lahti had quit and no longer lived nearby.
Lahti and her husband had both been arrested for battery in 2003, though the charges were later dropped. Joshua Lahti had been arrested more than a dozen times on drug, battery, and alcohol charges. At the time of the lottery drawing, the two were separated but still legally married.
Now, Lahti has begun to adjust to life as a lottery-winning millionaire.
In May, the mother of two attended a fundraiser at her former place of employment, Inland Northwest Bank in Post Falls. She refused to be interviewed by the local newspaper, which called the event Lahti’s first public appearance since winning the jackpot.
“Privacy is still her big concern and, as a result, I don’t ask any questions that would violate that privacy,” bank employee Ron Jacobson told the local newspaper, the Coeur D’Alene Press. “I did tell her that she looked and sounded happier and less stressed than the last time we spoke.”
Lahti agreed to help out at the Relay for Life cancer fundraiser and match all of the donations collected by her former co-workers. Suzanna Spencer, a branch manager at the bank, said that Lahti was still friendly and nice when she popped back up after a year-and-a-half in hiding.
“She is an avid dog lover and adopted a wonderful lab mix that is now one of the loves of her life,” Spencer told the newspaper. “Her goal has been to get settled down before her girls’ high school years. She has a good head on her shoulders and has gotten things lined up in her life.”
Messages to Lahti and attempts to contact her have not been returned.
Lahti’s story may serve as a cautionary tale to lottery hopefuls buying tickets to today’s drawing of the Powerball jackpot. A flood of media scrutiny, requests for monetary hand-outs, and publicity typically floods winners of the major lottery games.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Lisa Respers France, CNN
Sara Sidner, CNN
Joe Sutton and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
Meera Senthilingam, CNN