He Hit a $19M Jackpot. Then Everything Went Wrong

Jim Hayes eventually went bankrupt and turned to robbing banks
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 2, 2018 9:55 AM CDT
Updated Oct 6, 2018 1:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – You know those stories about people who strike it rich in the lottery, only to see their lives spiral out of control? Meet Exhibit A, Jim Hayes. At the Daily Beast, Natalie O'Neill recounts the crazy rags-to-riches-to-rags tale. In 1998, the 35-year-old Californian was working as a security guard when he won $19 million with a Quick Pick lottery ticket. After the taxman's cut, he opted for 20 annual payments of $684,000. "I know I'll change but only for the better," he told the Los Angeles Times the day after his life-changing win. Far from it: Twenty years later, Hayes would be a broke junkie living in a garage. At that point, he resorted to robbing banks for drug money, and he managed to hit 11 for a total of nearly $40,000 before the FBI finally caught him. He's now in jail.

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"Having money enabled me to live my wildest dreams," says Hayes. "But there's a flip side. It's the lottery curse." Hayes did pretty much everything wrong once he scored his jackpot. He spent wildly on cars, lousy investments, and a lavish lifestyle. He gave money to any old friend who turned up. He got divorced. In 2004, he needed back surgery for an old work injury, then got addicted to prescription pain meds. Three years later, he had to file for bankruptcy as the state began withholding lottery payments for his tax and alimony debts. In 2017, a fire at the modest apartment complex where he lived and worked left him destitute and jobless, and that same year, he struck upon the idea of robbing banks. Hayes is due to get out of prison in 2020, and he hopes to publish a memoir when he's out: Lottery to Robbery. Read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)

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