Fact-checking claims about taxes on the Mega Millions jackpot, Biden’s limo, and more

Social media users shared a range of false claims this week. Here are the facts: The IRS will not collect nearly $850 million in taxes from the more-than $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was not the first foreign leader to travel in the U.S. presidential limousine called “the beast.” Archaeologists haven’t found the mythological tomb of Osiris near the Nile River in Egypt. And the phrase “Cor ona virus,” written with spaces between parts of the word, does not translate to “heart attack virus” in English.

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:


Billion-dollar Mega Millions jackpot won’t trigger $850M IRS bill

CLAIM: The IRS would collect nearly $850 million in taxes from a more-than $1 billion Mega Millions jackpot.

THE FACTS: The winner of the lottery jackpot that sat at $1.1 billion earlier this week, when the claims circulated, would expect to pay at least $135 million in federal income taxes if they choose to receive their earnings all at once, rather than over 30 years.

That’s still far less than the $850 million claimed online.

Amid the frenzy leading up to Tuesday’s Mega Millions drawing, social media users shared posts suggesting the lion’s share of such a jackpot will ultimately end up in the federal government’s coffers in the form of tax revenue. No one has hit all six numbers in 25 tries stretching back more than two months. The prize now stands at $1.35 billion — the second highest in the contest’s history — with the next drawing slated for Friday night.

Danielle Frizzi-Babb, a spokesperson for the Mega Millions contest, says lottery winners can choose between receiving their earnings either through annual payments, or all at once. For a $1.1 billion jackpot, that’s a choice between a roughly $569 million lump sum, or annual payments that increase over 30 years, ranging from $16.5 million in the first year to about $68 million in the final year, she explained in an email. The lump-sum payment represents the present-day value of the advertised jackpot, which is based on the total annual payments. Whatever option the winner chooses, the federal tax rate of 24% is automatically withheld from the payments, according to Frizzi-Babb. For the lump sum option, that means about $136.5 million, leaving the winner with a roughly $432 million payout.

The winner would also be subject to additional federal taxes, as well as their state’s income tax, noted Robert Pagliarini, president of Pacifica Wealth Advisors, an investment management and tax strategy firm in Irvine, California. For example, the massive, one-time payout would put the winner into the top federal tax bracket, as lottery profits are considered regular income by the IRS, he said. But even with additional federal taxes factored, Pagliarini estimated the jackpot winner would still end up owing the IRS closer to $210 million if they opted for the lump sum — a far cry from the nearly $850 million suggested by social media users. If the winner opts for the annual payments, the total IRS bill would still only come out to around $444 million, assuming the top federal tax rate remains at 37%, Pagliarini said. “The short answer is those Instagram figures are incorrect,” he wrote.

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.


World leaders have ridden in US president’s limo

CLAIM: When Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rode in the U.S. presidential limousine sometimes referred to as “the beast,” it marked the first time a foreign leader traveled in the vehicle with a U.S. president.

THE FACTS: Several world leaders have traveled in the U.S. presidential Cadillac, including former Mexican President Vincente Fox, French President Emmanuel Macron, the late Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

President Joe Biden’s visit to Mexico this week for a summit of North American leaders began with a ride in his heavily armored presidential limousine sometimes referred to as “the beast.” Biden and López Obrador rode together in the vehicle, chatting while driving into Mexico City, the AP reported.

Social media users responded to news reports of the drive with false claims that it was “unprecedented” or abnormal for a foreign president to travel in the presidential limousine. “It’s the first time that a foreign leader travels on board with a U.S President,” one Twitter user wrote. “President Biden and past US presidents travel the world and are met by host leaders, but the protocol is that POTUS always rides alone or with family/staff in the Beast,” wrote another.

But news reports over the years confirm several foreign leaders have shared the vehicle with U.S. presidents. In 2017, then-President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Macron rode together in “the beast” to the presidential palace in Paris, the AP reported. Also in 2017, photos from AP and other news agencies show that Abe rode in the presidential limousine with Trump during a visit to a Florida golf resort. Former President Barack Obama also shared the vehicle with Medvedev in 2010. In response to an AP request for comment, the Secret Service said that “due to the need to maintain operational security, the U.S. Secret Service does not comment on the means, methods or resources used to conduct our protective operations.”

— Associated Press writer León Ramírez in Mexico City contributed to this report with additional reporting from Ali Swenson in New York.


Archaeologists didn’t dig up a mythological tomb of Osiris

CLAIM: “Scientists Just Found The Tomb Of Egyptian God Osiris Next To The River Nile.”

THE FACTS: No such discovery occurred.

Online posts recycle information about past archaeological findings in Egypt, including the 2015 discovery of a tomb modeled after Osiris’ tomb. A YouTube video that amassed more than 1.7 million views in seven days set off a wave of online rumors that archaeologists in Egypt had excavated the real tomb of an Egyptian god.

“Scientists Just Found The Tomb Of Egyptian God Osiris Next To The River Nile,” the video’s title announced. Social media users reacted to the video with dread, because Osiris is the ancient Egyptian god of the underworld and the deity responsible for judging souls in the afterlife.

However, archaeologists didn’t disturb the ancient burial grounds of Osiris or any other mythological figures, experts in Egyptian archaeology told the AP. No such recent discovery has been reported in the news, and the 28-minute YouTube video features clips about a variety of discoveries over the years, the experts confirmed. “Nothing accurate here; the videos just string together snippets from tombs and temples all over Egypt,” Peter Der Manuelian, professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, told the AP in an email.

For example, the video describes, without mentioning the date, a 2015 discovery of a tomb “constructed in the likeness” of Osiris’ tomb. In that discovery on the west bank of the Nile near Luxor, a Spanish-Italian archaeological team found a tomb that “was not build for Osiris but its architecture mimics the famous Osireion at Abydos which itself partially mimics the plans of the New Kingdom royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings,” according to Lorelei Corcoran, director of the Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology at the University of Memphis. “The tomb contains a statue of Osiris but such statues formed the cult focus of other Late Period tombs such as the tomb of Harwa in the nearby Assasif area of Thebes,” Corcoran said. “Recent news seems to be a recycling of this discovery.” An email message left for the lead excavator of the tomb was not returned.

— Ali Swenson


Coronavirus doesn’t mean ‘heart attack virus’ in Latin

CLAIM: In Latin, the phrase “Cor ona virus,” written with spaces between parts of the word, translates to “heart attack virus” in English.

THE FACTS: The word “coronavirus” in Latin, even when split up, does not translate to “heart attack virus.”

Social media users are entering additional spaces when translating “cor ona virus” from Latin in Google Translate, which skews results in English.

A recent video circulating on social media claimed that entering “cor ona virus” into Google Translate proved that it translates to “heart attack virus.” In the video, the social media user enters two spaces between “ona” and “virus” to get the result. Without the spaces, Google Translate just repeats “cor ona virus” in Latin to “cor ona virus” in English. One Twitter user shared the video with the hashtags “#vaccinedeaths” and “#VaccineSideEffects.” In the past, social media users have falsely claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine causes heart attacks.

But experts say this is an inaccurate translation from Latin. Adding spaces to “coronavirus” is causing the Google Translate tool to attempt to translate some sections separately. “This equation (cor ona virus = heart (attack) virus) is little more than subliterate nonsense,” wrote Marcus Folch, an associate professor of classics at Columbia University. Folch pointed out that “corona” in Latin translates to “crown” and “cor” translates to “heart,” while “virus” translates to a slimy liquid or poison. And “ona” is not a word in Latin.

Daniel Solomon, a professor of classic studies at Vanderbilt University, told The Associated Press in an email that “ona” is not a Latin word, but the translation could be a confusion with “onus” or “onera,” which means “burden.” Since “cor ona virus” isn’t a word or phrase in Latin, the Google Translate tool is translating some individual root words separately, a spokesperson for Google confirmed to the AP.

— Associated Press writer Arijeta Lajka in New York contributed this report.