Mystery surrounds lottery winner

2011-01-23 08:40

Rathdrum - Holly Lahti burst into the spotlight a week ago in a feel-good story about a single mother who won a $190 million Mega Millions jackpot.

Then came the mugshot: a thin young woman with dishevelled brown hair, sporting a black eye and cuts and bruises on her face and neck. It turned out she was separated from a man who court records indicated had abused her, and now has a possible claim to some of the money through a quirk in Idaho law.

Lahti, 29, went underground with her two daughters immediately after learning she had won half of a $380 million jackpot in the January 4 drawing. She has not been seen or heard in public since.

The mugshot was taken after Lahti and her husband, Josh Lahti, both were arrested during a domestic dispute in 2003. The charges were later dropped, and the couple has long been separated.

Josh Lahti said he did not know Holly had won the lottery until told by a reporter from The Associated Press last week.

"That's awesome! I won't have to pay child support!" he said upon learning his wife was rich.

A chunk of the winnings

As it turns out, the husband could be entitled to a chunk of the winnings because he and Lahti never divorced and were never legally separated for that matter. Idaho's murky law on the issue requires a divorce filing to grant separation, which is a key factor in splitting up assets between spouses.

While the lawyers sort out the issue in the months ahead, Holly Lahti can rejoice in the fact that her troubled past has given way to riches beyond her wildest dreams.

She quit her job as a customer service representative for a bank after winning the jackpot, then she asked family and friends not to talk with reporters. She did not appear at the January 12 press conference in Boise in which her good fortune was revealed.

In a brief telephone interview, Josh Lahti said the two started dating in high school and got married in 2001.

Holly Lahti still lives in the couple's home in Rathdrum, a town in the Idaho Panhandle. Josh Lahti said he sees his daughters, age 12 and 10, most days.

Upset friends

Her friends are upset at all the attention paid to the decade-old mugshot, and say it does not reflect the devoted and hardworking young mother who has moved on from a troubled marriage.

"She is kind. She is friendly. She is shy," said Jennifer Mayberry, who has lived in the same neighbourhood for a decade. "My children play with her children."

Lahti opted Friday to collect her jackpot in a lump-sum payment, instead of annual payments over 25 years. She will get $120 million, which will be reduced to $80.6 million by federal and state taxes.

It will be a dramatic change for a woman who by all indications appeared to be of limited means.

A search of public records revealed that she grew up in California and moved with her parents to Rathdrum, where she graduated from high school. Her marriage appears to have included some violence.

Holly Lahti was arrested and charged with battery in 2003 in Kootenai County, but the prosecutor eventually dismissed the charges. Her husband was arrested on the same charge the same day, and those charges were also dismissed.

Law is unclear

In 2003, Josh Lahti was arrested for violating a no-contact order, and that charge was dismissed. He was also charged with second-degree kidnapping, possession of drug paraphernalia, domestic abuse, battery and false imprisonment. All but the kidnapping were dismissed. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years probation.

In 2000, he was charged with domestic violence, but the charge was reduced to disturbing the peace. He was also cited in 2001 for failing to make child support payments.

Does Josh Lahti have a claim to some of the money? A University of Idaho law professor said it is unclear.

Nearly all other states except Idaho have laws that differentiate between separation and divorce, with division of assets clearly defined in each case, said Elizabeth Brandt, professor of family law. The Idaho statute muddles the concept of legal separation, and there is no clear case law on the issue.

But while the lottery winnings are almost certainly community property, Josh Lahti should not expect a huge windfall, Brandt said.

Holly Lahti can still file for divorce, and contend the winnings are all hers because the couple do not live together and do not support each other, Brandt said. A divorce does not automatically produce a 50-50 split of assets.

Holly Lahti could also negotiate a settlement with her husband, she said.

"I can't imagine he will have a significant claim to these earnings in the end," Brandt said.

  • Jeremy - 2011-01-23 09:45

    I hope she realises there is no law or cumpulsory act that states american citizens must pay a federal tax...

      mdskaisner - 2011-01-23 13:46

      You should really stop reading conspiracy theories and visiting websites like

      louwhan - 2011-01-23 16:22

      Funny how Wesley Snipes thought the same.

      robertgunning - 2011-01-25 10:25

      Yeah, well too much Zeitgeist will make you think that. Don't believe everything you hear no matter how powerful it may seem. Here is a link to everything you needed to know about american federal tax compliance.

      2c - 2011-01-25 10:47

      If you cared to read the article Jeremy, you will find that it states it clearly. Chop

      Susannomore - 2011-01-25 11:23

      I am sure that you are the expert. However, the government seems to think otherwise.

  • Howzitekse - 2011-01-23 14:25

    If he was not paying support he should be excluded from the winnings.

      Nebkad - 2011-01-24 09:11


  • Hux - 2011-01-23 14:33

    give the arse hole some money to go away. There will be plenty left for you and your family

      Mikemcc - 2011-01-23 15:05

      The only way make that type of @sshole go away is to give some of the money to someone else to make him go away.

      Dan - 2011-01-25 12:31

      I like the comment:"give the arse hole some money to go away". Isn't that phrase applicable to all woman too?

  • Gary - 2011-01-23 18:02

    Why did the press have to butt in and screw it up for the poor woman. Very low, I suppose you cant expect to much on a moral ground when telling the story super sceeds your moral obligation.

      Mike - 2011-01-25 09:41

      to vs too vs two - look them up in a dictionary for a new experience - also - it is supercedes - only a budgie sucks seeds!!

      Andy49 - 2011-01-25 16:19

      And nothing sucks seeds like success or a Hoover.

  • Gerda - 2011-01-23 22:09

    Won't be surprised if he suddenly became very friendly with his hopefully soon to be ex wife and try to patch up things between them. Hope she has sence and the perfect lawyer to advice her.

  • Joe - 2011-01-24 01:03

    Give him his share, and then, since HE is now rich (too) have him pay $10 000 a week in child support. No doubt he'll be poor again soon, but the $10 000 a week will still stand, then we'll see who laughs last...

      Mike - 2011-01-25 10:00

      Yea - per child that is, Not?

  • jon lol - 2011-01-24 10:06


  • kotzeae - 2011-01-24 12:02

    From $190 million to $120 million down to $80 million before she touched it. See how fast all of it disappears once she gets her hands on it. This money will probably cause her more unhappiness than she has ever known. - 2011-01-24 13:34

      you are just plain jealous.

      DeonL - 2011-01-24 14:15

      People with money can also be happy, they are deffinately more happy than the "poor"! To have money is not a sin.

      Enuff - 2011-01-24 15:49

      Money doesn't make you happy - it just makes being unhappy a little more bearable.

      cancer1983 - 2011-01-25 13:44

      The $190m applies if you take it over 25 years, which is the same as if you took the $120m lump sum payment and invested it at 4% in the bank. And you can't escape taxes. Personally I hope she and her children live happily ever after!

  • Pattib - 2011-01-24 14:42


      2c - 2011-01-25 10:51

      Caps Lock off Patty! Yeah, some have killed for less hey?

  • Rhombus - 2011-01-24 15:03

    DeonL - money doesn't make you happy, just look at the program that the BBC does, bringing back some of the big lottery winners. Most are unhappy, some have lost all the money again, few wished they had never won it in the first place, with only 1 or 2 living happily ever after. When you have worked for it or born into it, that's different.

      Mike - 2011-01-25 09:44

      I'd rather cry in the back of a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce than on the back of a bicycle!

  • Big Mouth - 2011-01-25 09:07

    Here is a recent photo of Holly Lahti and she really is a beautiful woman. Makes me mal to see that mugshot pic, of her battered face. Shame on the husband.

  • Big Mouth - 2011-01-25 09:10

    Here is a recent photo of Holly Lahti and she really is a beautiful woman. Makes me mal to see that mugshot pic, of her battered face. Shame on the husband.

  • preshengovender69 - 2011-01-25 10:21

    Chris brown and Rhianna

  • TurboChris - 2011-01-25 10:36

    What a crock, why do lotto payout only pay you the full amount over 20 years, do they add back the interest or do they pocket that. If you take a grand payout it so much less! The reason why a lot of the winners are unhappy is because most of them had not grown up with money and have never being around such large sums and don't know who to manage the money, read the book 'Rich Dad, Poor Dad', it puts it all into perspective.

      cancer1983 - 2011-01-25 14:23

      The $190m applies if you take it over 25 years, which is the same as if you took the $120m lump sum payment and invested it at 4% in the bank.

  • northernsuburb - 2011-01-25 10:40


  • Dan - 2011-01-25 12:30

    Just love it. Payback time for all the greedy ladies. Why are sour ex-wives always entitle to grab half of the man's hard earned belongings? Why don't we ever hear woman commenting on just how pathetic divorce settlements arem when the poor man ALWAYS gets nailed. I say justice. I hope this woman also looses at least 50% of what she has.

      cancer1983 - 2011-01-25 14:21

      Dan stop being such a misogynistic asshole! Assets acquired while the couple was together should be divided in half. They were not together for the last decade. With your attitude I hope your ex got at least half of your stuff!

      Dan - 2011-01-25 22:07

      @ cancer 1983. Your statement is case in point. By the way - very happily married, but seen many friends ruined by greedy useless coo-girls wasting their married life on tea parties with their friends while hubby had to work his arse off. No, No, this is pay back time. I hope he gets more than half. Now suddenly they were not together at the time anymore (still married though). Most marriages also break up because the wife is half of the time not part of the marriage - but always part when it comes to division of assets.

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