Everybody needs money to survive. It’s a fact we may not like, but it’s still a fact. Another inescapable truth is that most of us could use more money for the things we need as well as the things we just want. That probably makes the hope of winning the lottery sound like a dream come true, but the reality is much more complicated than that.
Consider this cautionary tale of a woman in desperate need who won an unbelievable amount of money. The choices and mistakes she made after winning ultimately resulted in losing it all. Her story reminds us all to never forget that money doesn’t buy happiness.
Meet Marie Holmes
When she was 26, Marie Holmes was living a difficult life in North Carolina. She was a hard-working, single mother of four with two low-paying jobs. On top of this, one of her children had just been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Because of her child’s special needs, Marie was forced to quit both of her jobs to care for him full time. Obviously, the $188 million lottery windfall seemed like a Godsend when Marie won, but unfortunately, she made a series of poor decisions that resulted in her losing it all.
Marie made some promising comments about what she planned to do with the lottery money — $127 million after she chose to get it in a lump sum. “First I’m going to pay my tithes, because I wouldn’t have none of it if it weren’t for God.”
“After that, I’m going to set up accounts for my kids…I’m going to buy a house for me and my kids, then make sure my family is all good.” Marie also told WGN-TV, “I don’t have to worry about the word ‘struggle’ no more and neither do [my children].”
The Waiting Game
Although most lottery winnings are not life changing, lottery jackpots are huge, and there are rules for claiming those winnings. If a person wins less than $599, the establishment that sold them the ticket pays them their winnings. However, there is a lengthy process involved in claiming large lottery winnings.
The ticket has to be verified by a scanning machine. Next, there is a waiting period for the money to be awarded, and the winner must fill out some identification paperwork. Last, the winner must decide if they want all the money in a lump sum or have it dispersed in installments for 30 years (on average).
One of the more difficult choices when a person wins millions of dollars in a lottery is whether to get the money in a lump sum or in installments. The dilemma occurs because there is a large penalty for getting all the money faster in a lump sum.
Marie had the choice of collecting the entire $188 million over 30 years or forfeiting $61 million and collecting the remaining $127 million much sooner. Financial experts commonly recommend taking the lump sum and investing the money. That allows you the opportunity to make money on your winnings instead of the state. Marie chose the lump sum.
Uncle Sam’s Cut
Many people don’t know how much taxes people have to pay out of lottery winnings in the U.S., so we’ll break it down for you. Although the entire tax amount wasn’t reported in Marie Holmes’ case, she definitely paid millions to the government.
In the U.S., lottery winnings are considered income by the IRS, on both the state and federal levels. Therefore, North Carolina would have taken 5.8% of Marie’s $127 million, and the Federal Government would have taken anywhere from 25% to 39.6%, depending on tax bracket and other factors. Most people pay the highest rate.
Setting an Example
When Marie won the lottery, she had plans that all sounded very honorable. She said she would donate first to her church and then move out of her mobile home and buy a new house for her children. She also planned to set up college funds for them.
Marie told NBC, “All the struggle that I ever went through, it was all for [my children]. I want them to understand that money doesn’t change you, but it can help you.” The public fell in love with Marie after hearing about her history of poverty and hard knocks before she became wealthy.
Could She Handle It?
The reputation that Marie had in her hometown and elsewhere was that of a hard-working, single mother who, according to her family and friends, “understood the value of a dollar.” At one point, she had two jobs — Walmart and McDonald’s — to support her four children. Therefore, nobody expected her to make poor decisions about where the money would go.
Of course, no one took into account that Marie was inexperienced and uninformed about how to handle large amounts of money. When she started deciding how to spend the lottery money, the public viewed her as immature and irresponsible.
Financial Advisor, Please?
When people who aren’t wealthy win a lot of money, it’s highly recommended that they seek professional help about how to manage the money, including what NOT to do with it. The average American has absolutely no experience handling large amounts of money.
Financial advisors warn that even titanic amounts of money can disappear rapidly if it isn’t invested wisely. In the case of Marie Holmes, it seemed like her heart was in the right place and she was doing what she thought was right, but some expert advice definitely would have helped her out.
The Bad Judgment Begins
The first thing dubbed a poor judgment call by the public was the $15,000 Rolex that Marie bought her boyfriend, Lamar “Hot Sauce” McDow. The watch was more jewelry than a timepiece and was reportedly “dripping with diamonds.”
That same boyfriend ultimately cost Marie much more. The Port City Daily reported Lamar was a gang member and a drug dealer after he was arrested and charged with “conspiracy to traffic in opium or heroin” in April 2016. He continued to get arrested throughout their relationship, and Marie spent millions on his bail and defense.
The Saga Continues
Before being sent to jail on drug charges in 2014, Lamar McDow lived with Marie Holmes and her children in her trailer. When he was released from jail after serving his sentence, he lived in the $350,000 home that she had purchased after winning the lottery.
According to the Daily Mail, of the original amount of $188 million, Marie was left with about $88 million after deciding to take her winnings in a lump sum and paying taxes. This is still a very large amount of money, but a loss of $100 million is obviously very significant.
Leeches Coming Out of the Woodwork
Predictably, lots of people immediately started asking Marie and her boyfriend for money after they heard she won the lottery. The people included friends, family members and numerous others, all requesting various amounts of money for all kinds of reasons. Unfortunately, this experience is common for lottery winners.
Marie and Lamar were constantly harassed for money handouts, and it became very stressful for them. Marie was quoted as saying, “When money comes, there are more problems,” according to reports.
Racial Intolerance in Their New Home
Another problem that plagued Marie and her family in their new life in their new home was harassment from neighbors due to racial prejudice. The neighborhood that Marie moved into with her family was an intolerant, primarily white community, and much to the family’s chagrin, the residents were not interested in changing.
According to Lamar, “One neighbor set up a camera to record everything we were doing. If I was driving down the road and going at the speed limit, they would wave at me for going too fast. They did not want us there. They were prejudiced.” Lamar reported these disturbing events to the Daily Mail.
The Church Donation
Marie stayed true to her word, which was reported in a press release as “The first thing she promised was to tithe — give a tenth of her winnings to charity.” Marie donated a total of $700,000 to her hometown church, Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church, located in Shallotte, NC.
The church reportedly used the money for much-needed renovations. Marie told the press the church was an important part of her life and her faith and that she had been attending that particular church since she was a child.
Unfortunately, a different pastor made contact with Marie and her family with an evil ulterior motive. Pastor Kevin Matthews claimed that “God led him to them,” and although they certainly regretted it later, Marie and her family believed him and allowed him into their lives and their home.
Soon after meeting Marie, Pastor Matthews asked her for $1.5 million so he could build a retreat. According to him, Marie verbally agreed to fund the project, although there is no evidence to support that. He then went ahead and began construction on the retreat using his own money. Marie did not contribute.
Citing a verbal agreement in which Marie allegedly promised to donate $1.5 million for his retreat, Pastor Kevin Matthews announced publicly that he was suing Marie Holmes for $10 million. The amount of money named in the suit was baffling, considering the amount he was allegedly promised was much less.
The public believed Pastor Matthews was being ungrateful and greedy. His behavior seemed unbecoming of a Christian leader to most people of faith. The justification for his lawsuit was that he had a verbal agreement with Marie for a money donation and compensation for “emotional distress.”
As soon as the media caught wind of the lawsuit, they uncovered that Matthews did not appear to be affiliated with any church. This led to a severe, angry public backlash. People shamed Matthews for being a fraud and trying to scam a nice lady out of her rightful winnings.
One YouTuber, “Donald the Repentless,” was so mad about this that he put out videos entitled, “F*** You Pastor Kevin Matthews.” Public opinion was clear that this so-called “pastor” was nothing but a money-grubbing scam artist preying on a nice lady to get his hands on a lot of undeserved money.
To Top It Off: Infidelity
In more bad news for Marie and her children, the media reported that her ex-convict boyfriend was being unfaithful. Unfortunately, it was also reported that she herself paid Lamar’s mistresses hush money to go away instead of getting rid of him.
In more reputation damaging news, a video surfaced on Facebook of a woman who claimed that in addition to Lamar cheating on Marie, he was also stealing money from her to pay prostitutes for “sexual favors.” Unfortunately, the video went viral, as juicy gossip often does.
Instead of withering under the scrutiny of the media and the public, Marie decided to take drastic measures to improve her circumstances. She gathered her strength and took matters into her own hands by turning to a well-known life coach to get some advice about how to improve her life.
Marie contacted Iyanla Vanzant, who has her own show advising people about their relationships on the Oprah Network. Vanzant is a renowned author and motivational speaker with a huge following due to her reputation for changing people’s lives for the better.
The Truth Revealed
In another surprising twist, when Marie went on the
Iyanla: Fix My Life
talk show, her mother, Fontella, came out and revealed that the numbers she chose for the winning lottery ticket were actually hers and that they had a very special meaning.
“I kept dreaming about your brother that we lost. His birthday, he was the third child, he’d have been 25 that year. Those were the numbers.” When Marie asked her mother why she didn’t claim the money for herself, Fontella replied, “I just wanted you to better yourself for the babies.”
The Scoop on Lamar McDow
Lamar “Hot Sauce” McDow was fortunate enough to stay in Marie’s good graces long enough to fight jail three times, to the tune of millions in bail and legal fees. The first time Marie bailed him out, it cost her $3 million in bond money.
Before a year had passed, Lamar was arrested again, and Marie bailed him out again for $6 million. The third time Marie bailed out Lamar, it was $12 million. You would think she would have been repulsed by his criminal behavior, but she just kept spending the money, resulting in widespread criticism.
Misery Loves Company
Marie was warned by many people that if she continued her relationship with Lamar, she could end up with criminal charges herself. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. One night, Lamar violated his parole curfew. When the police came, they discovered marijuana in the house.
Tragically, Marie was arrested for possession in front of her children. Marijuana remains illegal in North Carolina, but there is a significant racial bias about who is criminalized for it, according to the ACLU. The same number of white people as black people use marijuana, but blacks are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested.
The Boyfriend Defense
Lamar eventually got angry at the people criticizing Marie for spending her money bailing him out of jail, and he lashed out. To the Daily Mail, he asserted, “We are a couple, and I am the father of her youngest child. This is what people do for each other.”
Lamar went on to say, “She has the money, and she can do what she wants with it. If I had that money, then I would do the same for her. People are just jealous because of how much she won, and people want to see me locked in jail.”
The Wolf Pit
During the taping of the Iyanla show, the bad headlines just kept rolling in. Marie’s family and even former friends started accusing her of actually stealing the lottery ticket from her mother, despite Fontella freely admitting on television that she had given the ticket to Marie.
To add to the stress and drama, Lamar went to jail at this time on a seven-year sentence for charges related to possessing and selling heroin. True to form, Marie persisted in pushing forward and moving on with her life, demonstrating her strength and resilience.
A Goal Met
Despite poor taste in partners, Marie did make some good decisions about what to do with some of her money. She ended up giving $9.7 million to various charities. Part of that money went to the brand-new Marie Holmes Foundation, which was established to provide for children in need.
Marie’s foundation provides necessities for underprivileged children. It also holds community events, which are how some children get their school supplies and their Christmas presents. The foundation helps struggling young mothers like Marie was before she won the lottery.
Do Christians Gamble?
Marie was raised a devout Catholic, and she leans heavily on her Christian faith. Some people criticized her for playing the lottery at all, because it tends to be frowned upon by the church. People have mixed opinions when it comes to Christians gambling.
One pastor said this to the Christian Post: “You can’t be against the lottery, but your youth department is doing a RAFFLE! Same thing, pastor. SAME THING!” The stigma remains about gambling being an irresponsible money-waster. Others argue that there is nothing specific said about gambling in the Bible, so it’s okay when it’s not abused.
The Root of All Evil
Other religious people, such as one pastor cited in the Christian Post, pointed out that the Bible says that money is where evil originated. He scolded Marie for buying the lottery ticket and went on to say, “First, we must guard against our love of money.”
It should be noted that when the Bible does mention “casting lots,” it’s not usually talking about material gain, but about God. In an example of this, Proverbs 16:33 states, “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.”
Some Friendly Advice
We recommend that others read the unfortunate story of Marie Holmes in case they find themselves in her shoes. It’s not at all easy to go from rags to riches, and similar versions of her story have happened to others.
It’s important to understand tax laws for the long term, the rules of the lottery and investment options if you ever find yourself in the position of receiving a large windfall of money. Be sure to hire a good professional financial expert to help you decide how to manage your money to avoid reckless decisions.
A Cautionary Tale
If you ever happen to find yourself in the unlikely position of winning the lottery some things to watch out for include government laws, lottery rules, state and federal taxes and your previous unpaid debts. These things can help you calculate your expendable income.
It may be unwise in the initial excitement to promise lots of charitable giving, like Marie did, without first doing the math to see what your take-home amount really is. Multiple millions of dollars may seem like an enormous amount, but as Marie discovered, it’s easy to burn through it quickly if you are uninformed.
Some think that Marie had a run of terrible luck after she won the lottery, while others think she brought her woes upon herself with poor decision-making. A few think the truth lies somewhere in the middle of those two black-and-white judgments.
Aside from spending millions on her boyfriend — who eventually ended up in federal prison anyway — Marie also made some other questionable decisions after winning the lotto, such as buying her boyfriend a business of his own and buying her mother a house. She also had harassment charges filed against her for allegedly calling a woman repeatedly to threaten her.
The Bottom Line
The ending of this story is mostly grim, although Marie Holmes did do some positive things with a lasting impact before the last of her money was gone. She didn’t seem to realize that she would be under a microscope with the media and the public.
Here are a couple more tips, just in case you ever hit it big: Don’t trust anyone asking for money, even if they seem to have a very respectable social status (like the pastor who sued Marie Holmes). Remember the good that money can do, but don’t forget the bad. No matter what, don’t make bold promises immediately after winning.
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