(NEXSTAR) — It took roughly three months before we knew the winner of the record $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot, won by a single ticket in California. Now, a man has filed a lawsuit claiming he, not the man the California Lottery announced as the winner, is the rightful owner of the world’s largest lottery jackpot.
He isn’t the first – and likely not the last – to call the lottery’s thorough vetting process into question. But what exactly happens during that vetting process?
First off, it’s important to note that while vetting processes are largely similar state by state, each may have its own differences.
In California, where the world’s largest lottery jackpot was won, it can take weeks or even months for those claiming to be the winner to be confirmed, according to the agency’s deputy director of public affairs and communications Carolyn Becker. That process involves lottery staff, which includes security and law enforcement officials, who work to determine whether the claimant is a winner or a scammer.
“We have a very thorough process internally, at least here in California, to vet big winners,” she told Nexstar. “We don’t even call them winners until they’re cleared by that security review.”
The process begins the night of the drawing.
While speaking with Nexstar earlier this month, Becker explained that, once the drawing has been held for either Powerball or Mega Millions (the two national draw games California participates in), an automated report is produced that details whether a ticket winning the jackpot or second-tier prize was sold in the state.
As Becker explains, the California Lottery knew pretty quickly after the drawing in November that Joe’s Service Center in Altadena had sold a jackpot-winning Powerball ticket, but they didn’t know that was the only grand prize winning ticket for the $2.04 billion jackpot until all states had finished processing their results.
Thanks to the automated system used to sell tickets, the lottery also knew when the ticket was bought and how many draws were purchased in the transaction. Information like that, as well as security camera footage from the retailer, isn’t released publicly. It instead becomes part of the vetting process that the claimant has to corroborate. Other aspects of the process include reviewing the ticket, which has unique qualities much like a $1 bill (or any paper currency) carries.
“We just have to have reasonable – and I’m talking about from a legal perspective – reasonable evidence to support that this person claiming the money is indeed the winner or not,” Becker explained. “The integrity of the game is taken extraordinarily seriously.”
Lying about being a lottery winner can come with more than a slap on the wrist. In California, filing a false claim is a felony, Becker said.
“If there is a bad actor that we can prove…they are trying to fraud the state of California by way of the lottery, it would be up – just like any other crime – it would be up to a district attorney in that case. We would certainly support it.”
Becker noted that, at least in California, there are far more “legitimate and clear” winners than the reverse, “but unfortunately, it does happen.”
It’s too soon to tell if there was a “bad actor” involved in claiming the $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot.
A man identified as Jose Rivera has sued the declared winner, Edwin Castro, as well as the California Lottery and a third defendant, claiming the winning ticket was stolen from him. According to the lawsuit obtained by TMZ, Rivera claims the third defendant, “Reggie,” stole the ticket from him the same day he purchased it.
Rivera claims he tried to get Reggie to return the ticket that allegedly had the winning numbers, but Reggie told him it wasn’t a winner, and if found he agreed to give up half, TMZ reports. Rivera called for law enforcement and the California Lottery to investigate the alleged theft before Castro received his winnings (he opted for the lump sum of $997.6 million).
Rivera is asking for damages and to be declared the winner of the historic jackpot.
In a statement to KTLA, seen below, Becker said the California Lottery remains confident it has found the rightful winner of the $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot.
“The California Lottery is not authorized to investigate criminal activity among its players; such allegations are subject to investigation only by local law enforcement. Should a local law enforcement agency investigate such allegations, Lottery’s only role is to assist in the matter by answering questions and/or providing evidence as allowed under the law.
Further, when it comes to the vetting process for big winners, California Lottery has the utmost confidence in its process for doing so. California Lottery remains confident that Edwin Castro is the rightful winner of the $2.04 billion prize stemming from the Powerball drawing in November of 2022.”