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‘About That $38 Million …’

ELIZABETH, N.J. (CN) - It's so sad when a little thing like $38.5 million comes between friends. Five people claim their co-worker and "lottery companion" failed to inform them their lottery pool had one of two winning tickets for a $77 million lottery, and claimed the $38.5 million half-share for himself.

Five co-workers at Berto Construction sued Americo Lopes in Union County Court. They also sued Lopes' wife, the New Jersey Lottery Commission and the state's Department of the Treasury.

The plaintiffs claim that over the years Lopes regularly collected money from them and himself to buy lotto tickets. On Nov. 10, 2009, they say, one of their tickets hit it big, but the they were "unaware of this victory" because Lopes "kept this information to himself."

The five men say Lopes "came to work and advised his foreman ... that he needed fast surgery and he would not be working any further until the spring." The plaintiffs - Candido Silva Jr., Carlos Fernandes, Daniel Esteves, Candido Silva Sr., and Jose Sousa - say Lopes so-called "surgery" was "a ruse to explain [his] absence."

The men say they didn't learn the truth until this March, when "one of the Berto Construction officials mentioned that Lopes had won the Mega Millions lottery in November."

At that point, the five workers say, they went to check where Lopes kept their pooling information "only to learn that it had been removed."

They contacted Lopes, and say he "denied winning the jackpot."

Failing to accept that, they pressed him, and Lopes finally acknowledged winning and "began to cry," as he confessed, the men say.

They say that after this, their communication with Lopes was "deceptive and contradictory," that he told different people that he had won "only a few bucks" or that the tickets were "his own personal ones."

The plaintiffs seek damages for fraud, conversion, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and declaratory judgment declaring their "rightful interest and ownership of the proceeds from the Mega Millions lottery award."

They are represented by Rubin Sinns with Javerbaum, Wurgaft, Hicks, Kahn, Wikstrom & Sinns of Newark.

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