LANSING, July 22 – Four Michigan residents became lifelong friends when they agreed, with the signing of a scrap of paper, to share a $2 million prize awarded by the Michigan Lottery.
Bernard Marr, Carolyn Newland, Yousef Sharif and Tom Schultz were four of the five finalists chosen to participate in the Lottery’s $20 instant games grand prize drawing for $2 million on June 29. The four players, who’d never met each other prior to the drawing, decided that if one of them won, they would form a Lottery club and share the prize with each other. Immediately prior to the drawing, the four scratched out a note and signed a note indicting their intentions. Because they had no access to a copy machine, they wrote and signed the same information on three more notes so they would each have a copy.
When the drawing was conducted, Sharif, 56, of Swartz Creek, was the lucky winner. But with the scrap of paper tucked in his pocket, Sharif held true to his word and the Freedom Four Lottery club picked up their check for $930,367 (post tax) in Lansing on Thursday.
Sharif went to an attorney, who, saying the piece of paper didn’t matter, asked him why he wanted to share it because he was the official winner.
"I’m an honest person," Sharif said. "We didn’t need this paper."
Sharif and Schultz, 58, of Muskegon, both had the idea of sharing the prize before they even talked to each other. Schultz, who calculated the amount each member would get if the $2 million was split five ways during the drive to Detroit, proposed the sharing to Newland, 56, of Richland, since they were the first two finalists to arrive.
"I said, "Why the heck don’t we split it?" and she agreed," Schultz said.
Sharif’s first encounter was with Marr, 42, of Kalamzoo. When he mentioned the sharing, Marr agreed, because he too had been wondering about the possibilities.
"We were all thinking along the same line," Marr said.
All four finalists said they realized that they could either take the shot at the $2 million themselves, or guarantee themselves a sizeable amount of money. But given that the four had known each other just a few hours, even they were pleased, if not surprised, that they were able to successfully pull together.
"We just barely got it done," Newland said of the four scraps of paper being signed.
Lottery officials in Lansing were surprised as well. Commissioner Gary Peters said this is the first time in the seven live drawings the Lottery has conducted that this has happened.
"These folks deserve a lot of credit," Peters said. "They formed an instant bond together and had full trust in each other, and as a result, they are all winners.
"We have plenty of Lottery clubs, but not ones that are formed by folks who’ve agreed to share $2 million with people they just met."
While each winner expects to use part of money to pay bills, they also have some special plans. Newland will seek additional job training and do some investing. Marr and Sharif will use their money to set up funds for their children’s college education, and Sharif hopes to help some charitable causes. He and Newland said they are both interested in traveling.
Marr came up with Freedom Four as the club’s name, saying it was significant because the drawing was at the Freedom Festival and there were four winners. All will continue to play the Lottery as they have in the past.
The fifth finalist, Jason Gray, of Clinton, chose to not participate in the club.
The $20 Instant games are different from most other Michigan Lottery Instant games because the top prize will be awarded through a drawing. All $1,000 winning tickets for "Double Millions", "$2,000,000 Jackpot", "Millions & Millions" , "$2,000,000 Mega Play" and "$2,000,000 Cash Casino" that were claimed before the close of business on Wednesday, June 15 were automatically entered into the finalist drawing.
All proceeds from the Lottery are contributed to the state School Aid Fund which supports kindergarten through 12th grade public education in Michigan. In fiscal year 2004, the contribution was $644.8 million.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To access a photograph to use, go to http://www.michigan.gov/images/20050629-$2000000Drawing_131712_7.JPG.