Mega Millionaire 'Bunky' Bartlett says life of a lottery winner isn't easy

Bartlett reflects on mistakes (and successes) since winning $32.6 million

  • Bunky Bartlett at Mystickal Voyage in Nottingham, shortly after he won a Mega Millions jackpot in 2007. Bartlett invested in the Wiccan bookstore, but it went out of business.
Bunky Bartlett at Mystickal Voyage in Nottingham, shortly… (Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore…)
April 03, 2012|By Mary Carole McCauley and Justin Fenton, The Baltimore Sun

A Tarot card might have foretold that Ellwood "Bunky" Bartlett would win $32.6 million in the 2007 lottery.

Unfortunately, the spirit world provided no omens that might have helped the 45-year-old practicing Wiccan better manage his good fortune.

This week, as much of the East Coast is waiting for the winners of the record $656 million jackpot to step forward, Bartlett of Westminster agreed to talk about the things that have gone wrong — and right — in his life during the past three years.

To help Maryland's newest mega-millionaires avoid repeating his mistakes, Bartlett offered the following tips:

Remain anonymous. Take the winnings in the form of an annuity parceled out over 26 years, instead of in a lump sum. Curb impulse spending by stashing the winnings in a trust fund that requires several signatures to authorize major purchases.

"Otherwise, everybody and their brother will find you and try to get money from you," Bartlett said.

Bartlett was by all accounts a soft touch who gave away millions to friends and strangers. He hired his buddies, bought them first-class plane tickets, officiated at their weddings and helped them buy homes — only to watch helplessly as long-standing relationships disintegrated.

The former accountant readily admits to making bad business decisions. Plans that were widely publicized at the time, such as expanding the New Age bookshop near White Marsh that he considered his "spiritual home," failed spectacularly. (Wicca is a nature-based religion based on ancient traditions of witchcraft and white magic.)

A record label that Bartlett started at the request of his wife, Denise, released just two albums before it folded, including one featuring former reality show contestant Dilana Robichaux.

"People always said that I was too kind-hearted and wore my heart on my sleeve," he said. "One of the mistakes I made was giving money to help other people realize their dreams instead of my own. Then, when the businesses crashed, I looked like the bad guy."

When Robichaux first met Bartlett, he impressed her as a man adrift, a man in search of a focus.

"To me, Bunky was kind of a lost soul," said the singer, who was runner-up during the second season of the CBS reality show "Rock Star: Supernova."

"You could kind of tell he was a bit fearful of what he was going to do with all this money."

But not everything was a bust for Bunky.

The lottery winner estimates that, after paying 2010 taxes, he says he still has $15 million to $16 million left in the bank.

His children, Ryan, 26, and Ashley, 24, are doing well. He purchased his late mother her dream house on the water in Sparrows Point, and says she got a lot of pleasure during her final days from feeding the ducks each morning.

A pizza franchise that Bartlett bought with the sole purpose of ensuring that he could get delivery to his rural home has beaten the odds and is about to celebrate its second anniversary.

Here's how he tells the story of how he came to own Westminster's Mustang Pizza & Subs:

"Basically, we're out in the boonies and no one would deliver to us, so I said, 'Honey, do you mind if I open a Mustang's in Westminster?' Now, we have a 10-mile delivery radius, which is unheard of in the business."

The Bartletts also own investment property consisting of four houses and four commercial spaces.

And he is finally using his lottery winnings to finance a dream of his own — creating the ultimate video game. True, Bartlett is being criticized for asking the public for contributions instead of bankrolling the project entirely himself. But that hasn't deterred him.

"I'm never bothered by criticism that I shouldn't do something because I don't have the experience," he said. "I'm an idea man, and I can hire the people who can make my ideas reality."

Even before he entered the public eye in a big way, Bartlett, who at the time lived in Dundalk, was perhaps the world's most colorful accountant.

Within days of winning one-fourth of the $330 million prize, in September 2007, he told news outlets in the U.S., Britain, Finland and Russia that his win had been preceded by a Tarot card reading that told him to slow down and focus on his spirituality.

So Bartlett told the "powers that be" that if he won the lottery, he would focus on teaching completely.

"And a month later, here I am," he said in a 2007 article in The Sun. "I thank the gods for this gift. I don't know which one granted me this wish, but whichever one did, thanks!"

Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Carole Everett described Bartlett as the rare lottery winner who went public immediately with his good luck. "He was out in front of the media, even before he contacted us," she said. We usually hear from a lawyer first."

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