Never About The Money
Thomas Calabrese — The odds against winning the Powerball lottery are about one in 292 million, and Mega Millions is even worse, one in about 303 million. The federal government will take 24% right off the bat of winning 5,000 dollars or more. The state taxing authority will likely have its hand out for a share as well. However, some states are much kinder than others when it comes to taxing lottery winnings.
States with the highest top income tax rates pose a tough tax burden as well. New York is one example, particularly if you live in New York City, which will also want a cut of the winnings. New York’s top state tax rate is 8.82% as of 2020, but then you’ll have to add another 3.867% for the local tax. That works out to a hefty nearly 12.7% of the winnings. A tax bill would come to almost $127,000 if a person won $1 million, and $12.7 million if they won $100 million.
Obviously, your best bet for avoiding lottery taxes is to live in one of the states that doesn’t have an income tax at all as of 2020: Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming. Alaska and Nevada don’t tax income, either, but they don’t participate in national lotteries.
Then there are an additional couple of states that kindly refrain from taxing lottery winnings: California and Delaware will generously let you keep your jackpot tax-free. This is particularly convenient in California, where the top tax rate is even worse than what you’d pay in New York City: 13.30% as of 2020. It is truly amazing that California, a state that never misses an opportunity to tax its citizens, doesn’t tax its lottery winners.
Martin “Marty’ Carchar grew up in Alameda, California. His father, Robert, worked at the Maritime Safety and Security Team at Coast Guard Island, located in the Estuary between Oakland and Alameda. His mother, Sarah, was a systems analyst at the same location. The family lived in a renovated Victorian-style house on Santa Clara Avenue.
Marty met Bill Cummings, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer and swim instructor when he was a grade school student. Bill was a legend, having participated in some of the most harrowing rescues in Coast Guard history. He was a modest man who didn’t like to talk about his exploits, however. After being injured in a helicopter crash in Puerto Rico, Bill medically retired from the military. Several years later, he obtained civilian employment at Coast Guard Island working in the facilities maintenance department.
Young Marty developed an interest in joining the Coast Guard and when he heard from some of the active duty personnel about Bill Cummings, he politely approached the veteran and asked him about being a rescue swimmer. Since his father was a high ranking official on base, Marty was allowed to show his identification card to obtain access to the base. Bill refused to talk about himself, but he always made time at lunch or after work to impart as much information about rescue swimming that he had, which was considerable. He would tell Marty about currents, water temperatures and his various duty stations.
Marty was on the Alameda High School swim team for his entire four years. When he became strong enough, Marty approached his father, “Bill said that he would help me with my rough water training. He won’t do it unless I get your permission first.”
Robert was naturally curious, “How does he plan to do that?”
“We thought we would go outside the Golden Gate,” Marty smiled.
“On one condition,” Robert said.
It was an overcast day, the wind was blowing at 25 knots and there were ten foot swells with whitecaps. The thirty-foot fishing boat with the deep-V hull knifed through the waves. Bill was at the helm and expertly maneuvered the watercraft and Marty and his father were tethered to a steel rail to keep from being washed overboard. They left the Embarcadero Marina, cruised under the Bay Bridge and set course for the Golden Gate span. The twin Yamaha F250 outdoor engines rose to the occasion and kept the boat at a steady speed.
They were about a mile outside the legendary span when Bill called out over the sound of crashing waves, “This is far enough!” and secured a nylon cable to the hook on the front of Marty’s life vest.”
The seas were getting rougher by the minute and Robert suggested to his son, “You sure you want to do this?”
Marty responded enthusiastically, “Sure, Dad,” and jumped into the cold water.
For the next hour, Marty fought against the elements as he swam behind the boat. By the time he was pulled back on board, Marty was thoroughly exhausted, but also exhilarated by the experience. The high schooler continued to train in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean. After high school graduation, Marty enlisted and after boot camp, he was sent to the U.S. Coast Guard base in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
Becoming a rescue swimmer is considered by many as one of the hardest things a person can accomplish in the military. The schooling and training is some of the most demanding in any branch of the service. Rescue swimmers must have flexibility, strength, endurance and be able to function for at least 30 minutes in heavy seas.
Marty was very well prepared, thanks to Bill Cummings’s expert tutelage. He completed the 24-week course and graduated at the top of his class. His first duty station was Mobile, Alabama and from there he served in Puerto Rico. His third duty station was Oceanside, California. Marty’s duties alternated between rescues and training with Marine Corps Special Forces aboard Camp Pendleton.
A powerful El Nino storm battered the West Coast from San Francisco to the Mexico border. The distress call came in from a 60-foot sailboat that left Honolulu five days earlier. The skipper had hoped to make landfall before the storm. When the main mast broke and the auxiliary engine blew a piston, the ship could not outrace the storm.
The Angelina was being tossed about like a toy when Marty jumped from the helicopter into the water. It would have been too difficult for Marty to secure a harness to the crew members while they were on the watercraft. He called out, “Jump in!”
Three members of the crew complied with Marty’s instructions and they were lifted to safety. There was only one left to save now, the skipper. The Angelina broke apart and the man disappeared. Marty dived below the surface three times to no avail.
The pilot was struggling to keep the helicopter airborne and radioed, “Marty, we’ve got to pull you up.”
Marty replied, “One more try.”
The rescue swimmer moved through the waves and found the skipper wedged among some floating debris. He was injured so Marty looped the harness around him and radioed, “Pull us up.”
Three days later, the storm had passed and it was a sunny day in Oceanside. Marty was walking down the dock to the Coast Guard cutter Reliance when Vietnam Veteran and former Navy Seal, Joe Fernandez called out, “Hey Petty Officer, I heard you had a pretty rough rescue.”
Marty replied simply, “Nothing gets by you…worked out alright, that’s the main thing.”
“I owe you, Petty Officer,” Joe said.
Marty was confused, “Why is that?”
“That was my son skippering that vessel. He was on his way to visit me.”
“I was glad to be of assistance. How is your son doing?” Marty inquired.
Joe responded, “A few bumps and bruises, but he’ll be fine. We’re going to take my boat to the site where his boat went down and search the area for any flotsam.” (the wreckage of a ship or its cargo) found floating or washed up by the sea.”
Joe called out, “Hold up, I want to give you something.”
“You don’t have to give me anything,” Marty said.
“I used to do some treasure hunting in my younger days. I was diving off the coast of Cabo San Lucas when I found a chest with Spanish gold doubloons. Over the years, I’ve used that treasure to supplement my pension, help my son and buy my boat. There was one coin that was different from the rest so I kept it. A historian told me that the legend behind the coin was that it would bring good fortune to the holder, but it had to be the right person. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not that person because I have never found another treasure after that. Maybe you are the chosen one.” Joe handed the silver coin to Marty.
The Coast Guard rescue swimmer thought about declining the gift, but didn’t want to offend the veteran, “Thanks, Joe…I guess everybody could use a little extra good fortune.” He slipped the coin in his pocket and forgot about it.
Despite their age difference, Marty and Joe developed a close friendship over the coming months. They had the same core values and that transcended generations.
Joe walked down from his boat, Liberty Lady, to the Coast Guard Cutter and yelled, “Hey Marty!”
Marty looked over the side, “Whats up, Joe?”
Joe answered, “I went out fishing yesterday…caught some sea bass and mahi-mahi, a lot more than I can eat. I’m going to grill tonight, care to join me?”
“I have to go on base for water rescue training, should be done by 1800 hours,” Marty replied.
“No problem…bring a friend if you want,” Joe offered.
Marty countered, “I’ll bring the beer too.”
Alec Williams was a master-rated parachutist with the Army and he was training with First Recon Battalion. The CH-46 helicopter was one mile off Red Beach and hovered at 1250 feet. The ten occupants hooked up to the static line. Marty went out first and Alec was last and in between the two seasoned veterans were eight Recon Marines. The ten men hit the water in rapid succession and began swimming. Marty stayed behind the group to make sure that everyone made it safely to shore.
Later than evening, Marty, Joe and Alec were enjoying a meal of grilled fish while sitting on the deck of Joe’s boat and the conversation was about anything that wasn’t military.
Joe threw out a hypothetical question for consideration, “What would you rather be…rich and unknown or famous?”
Alec didn’t hesitate to answer, “Rich and unknown, without a doubt.”
“Famous holds no interest to me.” Marty added.
Joe held up his can of beer to compliment his companions, “We’re in total agreement. How about this, this one will be a little tougher. “How would you protect your money if you were rich?”
Alec asked, “How rich?”
“Millions, tens of millions.” Joe added.
Marty said. “It is out of the realm of my expertise, but I heard my dad mention that tax free bonds aren’t a bad idea.”
“That is one option, but it is a long term proposition and sometimes the yield doesn’t always keep up with inflation. You also limit the growth potential of your portfolio,” Joe said.
Marty inquired, “What is your strategy?”
“Larry Ellison of Oracle, once borrowed ten billion dollars and used his assets as collateral. He didn’t have to pay capital gains tax and his assets were allowed to grow,” Joe explained.
Alec questioned, “If the value of his assets dropped below ten billion, wouldn’t he have to add to them?”
“Is this loan secured by cash or stocks? If it was stocks and their value fluctuated, the individual would need a bank that knew him very well or have far more assets than the loan amount,” Marty surmised.
Joe reached into a drawer by the helm of the boat and pulled out two business cards and handed them to Marty and Alec, “If you are ever in a position when you need answers to unique or complicated financial questions and need expert advice, call this bank…they’ll help you, just mention my name.”
Marty read the card, “Zurich Cantonal Bank. Why would an ex door-kicker and hell-raiser like you have anything to do with a Swiss bank?”
Joe smiled mischievously, “On a need to know basis…
“We don’t need to know…we get it,” Alec guessed.
Joe raised his bottle, “One more thing… remember that it is better to have Intel and not need it, then to need it and not have it,” Alec and Marty raised their bottles in a symbolic toast.
Three months later, Joe was walking along Buccaneer Beach in Oceanside at 11pm. The coastal fog had rolled in early and visibility was limited to 50 feet. The former Navy Seal liked the solitude when the weather was like this.
He usually had the whole beach to himself and his mind could drift off to a wide variety of subjects. The rhythmic sounds of waves were both soothing and thought-provoking.
There were muffled screams in the distance and Joe had walked this section of beach enough times to know that it wasn’t a common sound. He headed in the direction of the noise without knowing what awaited him. At first, there were just fog shrouded images, but as Joe moved closer, he saw three men assaulting a young woman. He immediately rushed to her assistance. As one man turned to face him, Joe landed a crashing right hand that smashed his nose. A second assailant tried to hit Joe with a club, but he ducked under it and came up from behind the man and snapped his neck.
Joe felt a burning sensation and when he looked down he saw a knife sticking in his chest and the third assailant holding it. Joe slapped his hands over the man’s ears, then extracted the knife from his chest and drove it through the top of the man’s skull. The former Navy Seal fell to his knees as he began to bleed out, then fell face down and died in the sand.
There were over 200 people at Joe Fernandez’s funeral at Miramar Military Cemetery. Marty recognized Joe’s son as the man he rescued and approached him to express his condolences, “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Joe Fernandez Jr. immediately recognized Marty and offered a half-smile as he choked backed his tears, “My dad was larger than life. He was a war hero, explorer, adventurer, businessman and philanthropist. The greatest compliment he could pay you was to be your friend. I’ll never forget the day when everything seemed to be going wrong for me and I didn’t see any way out. My dad took me aside and said simply “If you weren’t my son, we’d still be friends. From that day forward, I saw the challenges of the world with a different perspective and renewed strength. He died liked he lived…going into his harm’s way to save another and that’s the way he would want it.”
Marty was too emotional to elaborate, “I won’t ever forget him.”
As the Coast Guard rescue swimmer walked off, Joe Fernandez Jr. called to him, “He might not have told you, but he considered you his friend.”
Over the next few weeks, Marty had several vivid dreams of his deceased friend. After one of these hallucinations he got up from his bed and made the short trip to the beach where Joe was killed. The weather was exactly the same as on that fateful night. Marty could swear that he heard Joe’s voice in the distance, but couldn’t be sure exactly what the words were, but they sounded like, ‘Play the game.’
Marty had put the coin that Joe gave him in the desk drawer of his quarters on base. Before leaving for training that morning, he put it in his pocket. The CH-46 helicopter was flying at 1500 feet, and was just south of the decommissioned San Onofre nuclear power plant when it experienced catastrophic engine failure and caught fire, The pilot struggled to extinguish the blaze and regain control of the aircraft, It quickly became evident that they were going down.
He communicated to the men in back, “We’re going down! Brace for impact! We’re going to hit hard!”
A helicopter doesn’t glide, it falls straight down when its rotors stop turning. Marty didn’t know why he did it, but he reached inside his pocket and touched the coin. The helicopter was falling hard and was only a second away from impact when it suddenly slowed to an almost complete stop and gently touched down.
One of the Marines asked, “Are we dead?”
After disembarking, everybody stood staring at the undamaged helicopter. The pilot, Captain Bob Porter shook his head, “I’ve had two crashes in my career and I was lucky enough to survive. In both cases the chopper broke apart around me. While we were crashing, I figured my luck had run out. Look at this…not a scratch. I couldn’t have landed any better if I had full power, let alone no power. How is that is possible?”
Marty touched the coin in this pocket, “I wish I had an explanation…at least a believable one.”
There was a collective sigh of relief and everybody aboard the chopper knew that they had slipped through the deadly grip of the grim reaper. While driving down South Coast Highway to decompress, Marty caught a glimpse of a sign in a liquor store, Play the Game. He pulled into the parking lot and walked inside. Marty approached the clerk behind the counter as he pulled out a 20 dollar bill. “Ten-dollar quick pick on Powerball and ten more on Super Lotto.”
Several weeks passed and life gradually returned to normal for Marty. He had a job to do in the Coast Guard and he needed to get his head back in the game. His life and others depended on him maintaining his focus. Marty had a lot of leave on the books, maybe now was a good time to take some of it.
While training to enter the Coast Guard, Marty and his mentor, Bill Cummings volunteered to work as rescue swimmers at the Mavericks Challenge. This surf contest gives the world’s best surfers a chance to test their skills against monster waves that can rise as much as 60 feet high at the spot called Mavericks near Half Moon Bay, California.
Marty contacted the organizers and they were more than happy to have a man of his skills at the event. He also thought it would be a good time to visit his family in Alameda and if possible, drive up to Lake Tahoe and see Bill Cummings who retired and moved to Stateline, Nevada.
To some, the immense power of crashing waves that dwarfed the surfers would have been intimidating, but to Marty, he was in his element and as an extra benefit, it helped keep his mind off his own issues.
On the second day of the contest, some waves reached the height of 73 feet. Marty performed six rescues of surfers who wiped out. There was a large boat outside the breaking surf and as Marty rode the sled behind the powerful jet ski, a woman with a camera smiled and waved at him from the deck as he passed by. Marty returned the greeting, then went into the water for another rescue.
It was at the end of the day and an exhausted Marty was removing his wetsuit, when the woman from the boat approached him, “I’m Catherine Belton, that was very impressive swimming out there today.”
Marty deflected the praise, “I’m well-trained.”
“What are you, a lifeguard?” Catherine asked.
“Something like that, I’m a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.”
Catherine smiled, “I’ve got some great photos of you out there…do you want to see them?”
“I appreciate the offer, but the last thing that I want to see are photos of myself,” Marty answered.
“You must have worked up a hell of an appetite out there, I know a place not far from here that has great food. I’d be honored if you would accept my invitation?”
Marty hesitated, then replied, “Okay…I’ll follow you.”
“Don’t bother…ride with me…I’ll bring you back to your car later.”
Catherine drove her Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUV to Atherton, the priciest neighborhood in the Bay Area, with a median home price of over 6.3 million. She pulled up to a large gated estate.
“What kind of restaurant is this?” Marty inquired.
Catherine responded, “The best kind,” as she pulled around to the back of a twenty-five room mansion. A man was waiting to park the vehicle. Upon entering the mansion, Catherine called out, “Angela, I have a guest for dinner.”
“You live here?” Marty asked as he looked around the exquisite surroundings.
Catherine replied, “When I’m in the area.”
During an appetizing meal of swordfish and delectable side dishes, Marty commented, “This is a truly exceptional meal.”
Catherine responded, “You don’t talk much, do you?”
Marty replied, “I don’t how to answer that…I guess I talk when I have something to say.”
After dinner, Catherine drove Marty back to his vehicle, “I enjoyed myself…would you like to get together again?”
Marty answered, “I’m in the military and I’ll be leaving for Oceanside in a few days.”
Catherine answered, “I get to Southern California fairly regularly.”
“Permission to speak freely?” Marty asked.
“Granted,” Catherine said.
Marty reminded his companion, “We’ve got completely different lifestyles… they couldn’t be less compatible.”
“I’ll choose character over lifestyle any day,” Catherine said with great conviction.
Marty’s next duty assignment was Northern California. Coast Guard Sector Humboldt Bay serves the public along 250 miles of rugged coastline from the Mendocino-Sonoma County line to the California-Oregon border. Cold Pacific currents, powerful Alaskan winter storms, towering rocks and dangerous harbor entrances threaten commercial and recreational vessels operating in the area.
Catherine visited Marty and their relationship grew stronger as time passed. Five months after purchasing the lottery tickets in Oceanside, the rescue swimmer noticed them among his paperwork at his quarters at the Coast Guard station. He knew that the tickets would be invalid after 180 days so he went online to check them.
Not long after arriving at Humboldt Bay, Marty went to a local jeweler and had him drill a hole through the coin and fasten a sturdy gold chain to it. He kept it around his neck at all times even when he slept. As he went to the lottery website on his laptop, Marty instinctively touched the coin. At first, he thought it was a dream, then he thought he was mistaken. It couldn’t be possible. Marty checked the numbers a dozen times until he was finally convinced that he was correct. What were the chances of winning two lottery jackpots at the same time? It had to be over a billion, maybe even ten billion to one. Nobody could be that lucky.
Catherine Belton was part of the family that owned controlling interests in Belton Integrative Systems. The company specialized in making computer chips. The prototype DS-1 was rumored to be the fastest computer chip in the world because of its radical memory and communication acceleration. It would be a game-changer in Artificial Intelligence. The drawback was that the chip consistently overheated and the engineers couldn’t rectify the problem. Belton Integrative Systems saw their stock price rise to an all-time high of 91 dollars then plummet to a low of 18 dollars based on the bad news of DS-1. The company was struggling to stay solvent and avoid filing for Chapter 11.
Marty found the business card that Joe gave him and called the bank in Switzerland. When he mentioned Joe Fernandez’s name, Marty was immediately connected to the Vice-President of the financial institution. Marty explained his situation and a bank executive left Zurich for San Francisco early the next morning.
For a one percent service charge, the bank had one of their business associates in California redeem the two lottery tickets which amounted to 811 million dollars, after the federal government subtracted their customary 24% from the total amount. The money was then deposited into the Swiss Bank and transferred back to Marty. This maintained the privacy that Marty requested.
Marty developed a list of friends, family members and charities with the instructions that the bank send cashier checks to them at unscheduled times. His name was never to be used. Checks to individuals were always kept less than 10,000 dollars to avoid the bank having to file a Form 8300 with the IRS. There was only one instruction included with the cashier check. It specifically stated that the money was an anonymous gift and the recipient should not tell anyone or the gifts would cease.
The multi-millionaire rescue swimmer did not change his lifestyle except for leasing a new Toyota SUV. Not everything was going according to plan, though. The tension between Catherine and her family grew more contentious as her relationship with Marty grew more serious. Her father thought the Coast Guard swimmer was just after her money and her brother and sister warned her that she would eventually grow tired of the simple veteran. It got so heated that her father, Raymond Belton gave her an ultimatum, “You either stop this relationship or resign your seat on the board of directors. I have lost faith in your judgment.”
Catherine was very emotional when she told Marty that she was going to resign from the company, “I’m not going to let my father threaten me. This is my life, not his!”
Marty tried to reason with her, “You’ve got responsibilities and people are counting on you. Your dad is just looking out for you. You might not like his methods but his motives are righteous. Hell, if I was in his position, I wouldn’t trust me either…he doesn’t know me.”
Catherine was astonished, “Just whose side are you on?”
“Yours…always yours,” Marty smiled.
Catherine shook her head and sighed, “That’s what I get for falling in love with a man with character and honor. For the record, you don’t have to always do the right thing.”
The next morning, Catherine told her father that she broke up with Marty. He replied, “I’m glad you saw it my way.”
Catherine was abrupt, “I didn’t say that…I’m here to work so let’s get to it.”
The news kept getting worse for Belton Integrative Systems. Their stock prices were dropping every day and the Beltons were leveraging everything they had of value while hoping for a miracle. The engineers still could not find the solution and time was running out.
When Marty checked the stock price, it was at 8 ¾. He touched the coin hanging around his neck for inspiration, then called his bank in Switzerland and told his personal representative, “I need you to buy as many shares of Belton Integrative Systems as you can.”
The representative tried to discourage Marty, “That would be a mistake, sir. That company is going bankrupt.”
Marty was polite but unbending, “I appreciate your advice, but do like I say.”
The Belton family was meeting at the house in Atherton looking totally defeated. Raymond’s cellphone rang and he listened for a minute, then disconnected the call. He turned to his two daughters and son, “A Swiss bank just purchased 15 million shares.”
“Why would they do that?” Catherine asked.
Raymond sighed in relief, “I don’t know but it buys us more time.”
Four days later, the engineers found the flaw in the innovative computer chip and Belton Integrative Systems stock prices skyrocketed. They were now at 96 dollars. The Board of Directors was meeting at their corporate headquarters in Cupertino. The mood was festive and optimistic.
Raymond Belton received a call from the outside receptionist, “Of course, send him in.”
The CEO made an announcement, “Our mysterious investor and savior wants to know if he can have a few moments of our time.”
The large wooden door slowly opened and a man stepped in. Catherine called out, “Marty, what are you doing here!”
Raymond became angry when he realized the man standing before him was Catherine’s military ex-boyfriend, “Get out of here before I have you thrown out!”
The Chief Financial Officer of Belton Integrative Systems was standing behind Marty and quickly clarified the situation, “This is Mr. Carchar, he owns 15 million shares in our company.”
Catherine ran into Marty’s arms, overwhelmed with emotion at this unexpected turn of events.
It was never about the money for the quiet hero who preferred to remain rich and unknown, but made an exception in this case for the woman that he loved.
***This is a fiction . While it may have some facts in it, the reader should realize that the story was created by the writer for entertainment purposes.