Video: Must wife share jackpot with estranged husband?

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    >> over who will share in the huge mega millions jackpot. kevin tibbles has details. good morning.

    >> reporter: hey, meredith. imagine winning the biggest lotto jackpot ever. that's okay. then imagine sharing it with someone else . well, that's okay, too. but then imagine having to share it with someone you might not want to share it with.

    >> hello, america. tonight's mega millions jackpot is so big --

    >> reporter: so big is right. $380 million big. the second largest lottery jackpot in u.s. history . the first winner to come forward, jim mccullar from washington state . he couldn't wait to share his $190 million prize with his wife.

    >> been married 41 years. i know what to do with this check.

    >> reporter: the second winner didn't claim her prize until several days later. lottery officials in idaho made this mysterious announcement.

    >> she wants us to respect her privacy and we are honoring that request here at the lottery.

    >> reporter: the winner, 29-year-old holly lahti , a bank teller and single mother of two from a tiny town in idaho .

    >> she couldn't believe it. she shouted for joy.

    >> reporter: she immediately quit her job and she and her kids have disappeared from her home. no one's heard a peep from her. lahti 's cinderella story hit a snag when a mug shot of her surfaced from 2003 , after she'd been charged with battery. the picture shows her with a black eye . the charges were later dropped. then these pictures of her estranged husband joshua. he's been charged in at least nine different incidents, from driving under the influence and second degree kidnapping to domestic battery. the couple may be separated but they aren't divorced, and in idaho a community property state, joshua could wind up a very rich man.

    >> on the one hand you have a great fortune. on the other hand you feel it's somewhat unfair that someone else should share in that windfall.

    >> reporter: but many in this small idaho town say holly shouldn't have to share.

    >> she should get it. they're separated. she got the ticket. it belongs to her.

    >> reporter: holly lahti hasn't been seen in these parts since her numbers came up. she's reportedly thinking things through in a warmer place on the beach. now, nbc news did try to contact holly and her estranged husband, but to no avail. on a social network site she says there are a lot of people trying to contact her. with regard to this evening's mega millions draw, i want to say that our numbers have just come up here and if i win, i'm going to share this with you. thanks to the folks at bob's pantry in highland park , illinois. we're going to split this and cut out that matt lauer guy.

    >> thank you very much, kevin tibbles.

    >> reporter: see you in hawaii.

    >> ricki, good morning to you. so the argument that they are still married and he's entitled to half the win, how strong is the case?

    >> unfortunately very strong. the idea of community property was that if a couple got divorced we believe is the policy for the state and the sanctity of marriage so one should not be able to loot from the other. in this case they have not only been separated for years, but they were each involved with domestic violence with the other. he sounds like not really a good guy toward her. however, the state of idaho says, you didn't go to court to get a divorce, you're still married then what you wind up with is he's entitled to half.

    >> the fact that she had restraining orders against him doesn't work in her favor?

    >> some lawyer may take this case and say, let's test the community property laws in in idaho . let's go all the way up to the idaho supreme court because this wasn't what we thought community property was about. he probably will lose. what i would say to holly is this. look, you're 29 years old, you just got $90 million. you have two kids. why don't we look for a way to make josh happy and make josh go away and that you can have your own life with a lot of money. i mean, $45 million is a lot of money.

    >> what do you suggest?

    >> one of two things. i would say, split it up with him. don't pay the lawyers and get tied up in litigation.

    >> that will cost a money.

    >> and the money could be frozen. so she may not be able to use it for years. so either pay him half, get it over with or you have $90 million, divided by three. a third for the kids, a third for you and for him. do i think he should get a dime? no. but does the state say he should? he'll get $45 million.

    >> she should prove that the ticket was part of a gift or inheritance and she would get all the money involved.

    >> that's correct. so just as you were given a gift in the sense of saying "i will share this with you" if he wins you're entitles to half. i give my dry cleaner on a regular basis, my pharmacist, even friends sometimes. you go into the office and say, you come back with ten lottery tickets and give one as a gift. if she can prove that it was a gift then hubby is not entitled to anything.

    >> so far there is no indication that that's the case.

    >> no indication. if it suddenly started to look like a gift at this point in time that someone came forward and said they gave it to her, that could be a problem, too.

    >> thank you so much.

    >> always a pleasure.

msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 1/18/2011 2:30:09 PM ET 2011-01-18T19:30:09

An Idaho woman who is splitting America's second-largest lottery jackpot may need some legal luck to hold onto all of her share, according to media reports.

Holly Lahti, 29, is the Rathdrum, Idaho, mother of two identified last week as the second of two ticketholders in the $380 million Mega Millions drawing on Jan. 4. Jim and Carolyn McCullar of Ephrata, Wash., came forward as holders of the first ticket almost right away.

Lahti's ex-con estranged husband learned last week from a reporter of his wife's good fortune.

Both have had run-ins with the law.

Joshua Lahti, 31, was convicted of domestic battery, drug possession and buying alcohol for a minor, according to the Daily Mail of London, which said he has been arrested more than a dozen times.

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The couple married in 2001 and are legally separated but not divorced, according to court records examined by the Coeur d'Alene Press newspaper. Joshua Lahti, a 1997 Lakeland High graduate, was arrested for violating a no-contact order and battery in 2002 and 2003, the Press said.

Both Holly and Joshua Lahti were booked on battery charges in January 2003 and sent to jail, the Daily Mail said.

Holly Lahti was pictured with a black eye in her booking mug shot.

The couple have daughters ages 10 and 12.

Attorneys differ on interpreting whether Joshua Lahti is entitled to any of Holly Lahti's winnings. Some say their continued marriage means the husband gets half the winnings even though they have been separated. Others say a judge could have discretion and leave the husband with less than half.

Lahti wasn't on hand for Wednesday's announcement in Boise that she was the winner.

"She's requested that the media respect her privacy and not attempt to contact her until she's prepared to speak to you," Idaho Lottery Director Jeff Anderson said at a news conference.

David Workman, Idaho Lottery spokesman, told the Press that only Holly Lahti will be given a check from the Lottery.

"Holly is the person who claimed the ticket, so she's the person we'll pay," Workman said.

However, she hasn't decided whether to take the annuity or cash option. If she elects the one-time $190 million cash option, she would receive a check for more than $80 million after taxes. If she chooses an annuity, 26 payments over 25 years, her annual payment would be $4.9 million after taxes. She has nearly two months to decide, the Press said.

Lahti worked since 2007 as a customer service representative at Inland Northwest Bank in Post Falls, but she resigned Jan. 10, said Holly Poquette, the bank's chief financial officer.

Suzanna Spencer, INB's Post Falls branch manager, said the bank took about 100 calls from people, predominantly customers, wishing her well. The bank is keeping a large envelope full of cards from people for her.

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"People know what a great person she is, and they are excited for her," Spencer said. "She's very well-liked. She's a great woman, and I'm sure that will never change. She's already made this place busier."

Leasa Moore, a clerk at Ady's Convenience & Car Wash, said Lahti bought a ticket at the store the day of the drawing and returned the next day to check the numbers.

"She let out a big scream," Moore said. "She was pretty excited."

Moore said Lahti is a regular at the store, which is near the bank where Lahti worked.

"She's a great gal, very levelheaded," Moore added.

The winners had to match five numbers plus the "Mega ball." The numbers were 4, 8, 15, 25 and 47, and 42 as the Mega ball.

Jim, 68, and Carolyn, 63, McCullar had played some combination of those numbers for years because they're based on the couple's birthdays.

Anderson said Lahti let the computer pick her numbers.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Vote: Should jackpot winner have to split money with estranged spouse?