DES MOINES — Talk about feeling your oats.
An unidentified, jubilant group of 20 shipping department co-workers at the Quaker plant in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday claimed their shares of a $241 million Powerball jackpot — the largest lottery prize won in Iowa since the state lottery’s inception in 1985.
The 18 men and two women, who won as “The Shipping 20” trust and did not make public their last names, not only established themselves as first on the list of Iowa Lottery jackpot winners.
They also are expected to become the first to take legal steps to keep their full names from being publicly divulged — a position that is allowed under Iowa’s open records law but one that had lottery officials and news organizations in disagreement.
All but two of the winners led an entourage of nearly 50 people via charter bus to the lottery headquarters to validate their winning ticket and lay claim to a lump-sum award of $160.3 million, which whittled down to $112.2 million once $48.1 million in federal and state taxes were deducted — leaving each winning trust member with about $5.6 million.
The group’s spokesman, Al, 61, said he bought tickets on behalf of the employees who have pooled their resources for a decade or so to buy $100 worth of Powerball tickets whenever the jackpot would exceed $150 million.
“A lot of times we get nothing,” Al said, “but not this time” chimed in a happy co-worker before they received a ceremonial oversized check bearing the jackpot amount. The winners also were showered with mini, fake $100 bills shot from confetti cannons as part of the lottery celebration that included the playing of a song titled “I’m Calling in Rich” composed for the winners by Cedar Rapids co-worker David Bosier.
At least 11 of the winners — who ranged in age from 35 to 64 years — indicated they would retire from their jobs now that they have become instant multimillionaires. The 20 winners all live in and around Cedar Rapids, are longtime employees of the Quaker plant, and are members of Local 110 of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/United Food and Commercial Workers International Union whose job is to ship out boxes of cereal from the plant.
Lawyers for the trust informed lottery officials on Tuesday that the members of The Shipping 20 Trust, which was organized in Linn County District Court, want their individual names to remain confidential and intend to request an injunction to keep that information private.
Joe Day, a Cedar Rapids attorney representing the trust, said “I think we’ll be fairly successful” in getting court approval to keep the winners’ names confidential.
“That’s their choice,” Day said. “This is still a free country, for a while anyway.”
During a televised news conference with the winners, Al said the winners want to maintain some privacy and avoid some of the negative trappings that go along with winning a large lottery prize. Others said people who viewed Wednesday’s event will recognize them so friends, family members and others already know their identities.
“Obviously, we don’t want people knocking at our doors. We’re common people, simple people. We don’t want the limelight. I don’t want this, but I’m here,” Al told reporters.
Iowa Lottery Chief Executive Officer Terry Rich said his agency believes the names are public and should be disclosed, but understanding the specifics of the law, the lottery has agreed to give the group 10 business days to seek an injunction.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve had this request,” said Rich, who called the issue a “gray area” in Iowa law. “We read it as it’s open and the information is available unless a court says separately.”
Requests for release of the names were made by at least two newspapers after Wednesday’s announcement.
Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer said the lottery took its position after consulting with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.
“I think in this age of social media anybody understands that people might have a concern about the information being out there,” she said. “However, the law says that lottery winner’s information is public.”