Holly Lahti won one of the biggest lottery jackpots in U.S. history then seemed to disappear from the face of the Earth. She actually moved to the California coast.
Lahti, 31, of Rathdrum, gave her first interview this week since splitting a $380 million Mega Millions jackpot in January 2011.
The Coeur d’Alene Press reported Friday that Lahti received lots of real estate and business invitations after her good fortune. Letters from inmates and marriage proposals from strangers also followed after she claimed what was then the nation’s second-largest lottery jackpot ever.
Shortly after she hit the jackpot, she decided to flee to a coastal community that she declined to reveal. Her focus, she says, has been trying to build a normal life for her two daughters, ages 14 and 12.
“What I thought would happen is that I’d leave for a couple weeks and come home,” said Lahti, who worked as a bank teller in Post Falls before she won the lottery. “I couldn’t see myself moving back. Reporters were showing up to my home and trying to dig up anything and everything they could. I felt my privacy was invaded.”
Lahti is telling her story amid the frenzy over a $600 million Powerball jackpot in Saturday’s drawing.
Lahti’s roller coaster ride was even more complicated because she was separated yet still married to Josh Lahti when she hit the jackpot. The two are now divorced after 10 years of marriage, and Holly Lahti declined to say how or if the lottery funds were divided.
“The divorce is sealed, and I am not allowed to discuss the outcome,” she said. “He and I are on good terms. We’ve grown a lot together since this happened.”
She said her ex-husband has visited her home and their children, and she sees him when she returns to Idaho.
“I love his family,” she said. “I don’t have a bad thing to say about him, despite the reports.”
After taxes and splitting the jackpot with co-winner Jim McCullar of Ephrata, Wash., Holly Lahti collected $80 million as a one-time cash option.
She said she had a relationship with another man after the divorce, but it didn’t last.
Her daughters are now enrolled in private schools in California.
“I’m so excited to be able to get them this education and open doorways for them that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.
Lahti finally bought a home on two-and-a-half acres a year ago after renting for about a year.
“The house was practically empty for months – we were sitting on beanbags – but I’ve slowly been furnishing it,” she said. “It still scares me to spend large amounts of money, but it’s slowly starting to feel more like home.”
Lahti said she can recall playing the lottery only one other time in her life before she hit the jackpot.
These days, she and her girls keep the lottery win as quiet as possible.
“It’s easier to get lost in California than it is Rathdrum or Coeur d’Alene,” she said. “There are a lot of people out here who have more money than I have and who couldn’t care less about what I’m doing. I like that.”
In addition to buying her home and putting her daughters in private schools, Lahti bought her father a home in California after his previous place was destroyed by a fire.
She also took a vacation to Hawaii – her first time flying over the ocean.
“I have yet to travel outside the country,” she said.
Lahti believes her money is soundly invested.
“I haven’t squandered it,” she said. “Being a single mom living on a budget with two kids is instilled in me. I’m not one to throw money up in the air and live like Paris Hilton.”