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A Stranger Returned His Lost Lottery Tickets. Then He Won $273 Million.

An unemployed New Jersey man won a $273 million Mega Millions lottery jackpot last week after a stranger found and returned the winning ticket that he had left behind on a store counter.

The man, Michael J. Weirsky, told reporters on Thursday that he lost two tickets immediately after he bought them at a QuickChek in Phillipsburg, N.J., on the day before the lottery drawing. He said it was the result of “the typical cellphone deal.”

“I was paying more attention to my cellphone,” he said at a news conference. “I put the tickets down to put my money away, then I did something with my phone and just walked away.”

Mr. Weirsky had spent hours searching for the tickets when he got to his home in Alpha, N.J., near the Pennsylvania border. He was convinced they must have gotten lost there, and it was not until the next day that he decided to ask a clerk at the store if anyone had seen them.

The clerk said someone had turned them in. Then she quizzed him on what tickets he had bought before handing them over, he said. The lottery drawing was that night.

“I was very thankful there was an honest person out there because I thought it was gone,” he said.

But Mr. Weirsky, who said he spends $20 a week on quick-pick lottery tickets, said he did not realize he had the winning ticket until two days later, as a snowstorm swirled outside.

He said a friend of his mother’s called to say she thought a mutual friend of theirs had hit the jackpot. That man bought his ticket at the same store Mr. Weirsky did, and had been standing right in front of him when he did it. Mr. Weirsky called to ask if he had won.

When the man said he had not, Mr. Weirsky decided to check his own tickets using the lottery app on his phone. Then he turned to his mother in shock.

“I put the phone down, I put the ticket down, I sat there for a second — I said to my mother, ‘Hey, that just said I was the jackpot winner,’” he said. “And she’s like, ‘What’s that mean?’”

“I said, ‘I won $273 million,’” he told her. “And she was like, ‘Get the hell out of here.’”

So, for a while, he did.

“I just put the ticket back down, watched TV for about another half-hour. And I just got up and ran upstairs, got dressed and I said, ‘I’ve got to go find out if it’s real,’” he said.

New Jersey Lottery said in a statement that Mr. Weirsky “ventured out in a snowstorm” to scan the ticket at a nearby store. The scan also said he was the winner.

Mr. Weirsky said the lottery win would change everything for him. He had been unemployed for 15 years, he said, living as a stay-at-home husband and moving often for his ex-wife’s job.

Their marriage ended in October. He said he now plans to take his time looking for work. He may start a business, he said, or work part time helping a friend who works as a handyman.

“I am just going to sit back and enjoy it,” said Mr. Weirsky, who could not be reached on Friday night.

He said he planned to take his winnings as a $162.5 million lump sum rather than in installments. His first move will be to buy a new pickup truck, he said, and his next will be to listen to his lawyer.

“After that, I am basically locked into what my lawyer and other people that I got working for me tell me I can do,” he said. “But after they tell me I can go crazy, I am going to take a family vacation and take everybody with us.”

James Carey, the acting executive director of the New Jersey Lottery, said Mr. Weirsky was lucky that someone had returned the winning lottery ticket to the store. (The store was lucky, too: It got a $30,000 prize from New Jersey Lottery for selling the winning ticket.)

When it comes to lottery tickets, possession is nine-tenths of the law, Mr. Carey said. If the person who found Mr. Weirsky’s ticket had claimed ownership, that person would have been declared the winner.

“If you have a winning ticket, we always urge our players: Sign that ticket right away,” Mr. Carey said at the news conference. He added, “If you think about it, it is very difficult to say who owns a lottery ticket short of someone coming in here and saying, ‘I purchased this ticket. It’s mine.’”

Mr. Weirsky said he was thankful for the unidentified good Samaritan who found his tickets on the store counter and decided to turn them in. He said he hoped to find the person.

“I’ve got to find him and thank him,” Mr. Weirsky said, adding, “I am going to give him something, but I am going to keep that private.”

Michael J. Weirsky, an unemployed New Jersey man, won the Mega Millions jackpot after losing his tickets. He was distracted by his cellphone, he said.

Mike lotto

Newly-wed thief out of luck

A young man in urgent need of a dowry robbed a couple who won the first prize lottery but was caught by police just a day later after being spotted lurking about the victims’ village in his truck.

Nisit ‘Aun’ Triphoom

Thai Charoen district police in Yasothon province nabbed Nisit “Aun” Triphoom, 23, after he robbed the home of Thong-on Anukulpracha, 54, and his wife Mud Anukulpracha, 53, on Oct 19.

The farming couple in July last year won the first prize lottery prize of 12 million baht to great fanfare nationwide. When Ms Mud heard she had won, she fainted, and relatives had to bring her around with first aid.

Media reports say Mr Nisit, an electrician who had married his girlfriend, Sudarat “Aon” Senakoon, 19, two days before, recalled the publicity, figured they must still have plenty of money, and together with Ms Sudarat and his mother hatched a plot to rob them of their winnings.

After breaking into their home he took cash, five savings bonds, two land title deeds, a bank book and Ms Mud’s ID card.

The same day, Mr Nisit took his mother, Wanpen Triphoom, disguised as account owner Ms Mud, along with Ms Sudarat to Krungthai Bank’s branch in Kut Chum district. They withdrew 2.9 million baht, emptying the account.

Media reports say Mr Nisit and his girlfriend cajoled bank staff into letting Ms Wanpen withdraw the money with the bank performing minimal security checks of the signature on the withdrawal slip or Ms Wanpen’s appearance.

The accounts were opened at the bank’s Tesco Lotus branch in the district, but staff at the Kut Chum branch were apparently unable to recognise Ms Mud despite her fame. Once the thieves had obtained the cash, they split it up.

News reports say Mr Nisit put down a deposit of 430,000 baht on a Toyota Isuzu pickup, while his mother took 140,000 baht and bought a necklace worth two baht in gold.

The young man paid Ms Sudarat’s family a dowry of 294,100 baht, sent money to various relatives, and gave his new wife two baht in gold. They also deposited 1.9 million baht of the stolen cash in a new account.

When the farming couple realised they had been robbed, they contacted police, who spoke to locals. They said they noticed someone driving a Toyota Virgo in a grove at the back of the village at the time of the robbery. Much to their surprise, police found it parked “furtively” nearby. They did an ownership check and discovered it belonged to Mr Nisit.

The young man’s family lives in Muang district, Yasothon, where locals said Mr Nisit held a simple wedding ceremony with Ms Sudarat on Oct 17.

He had actually moved out of the village several years before to live with Ms Sudarat, a convenience store worker. Police learned the couple also held a more lavish wedding ceremony at Ms Sudarat’s family home in Roi Et province.

Curious locals, according to news reports, asked Mr Nisit’s mum how he was able to afford such largesse. She replied that he had tendered for a contract job and been paid out in a lump sum.

After finding out who owned the vehicle, police travelled to Ms Sudarat’s home, where they found Mr Nisit. He initially denied having anything to do with the robbery but when police asked to search his backpack they found Ms Mud’s ID card and her bank book, which he had failed to secret away.

Confronted with the evidence, he admitted the house robbery and taking part in the fraudulent scheme to withdraw Ms Mud’s money from the bank. Media images showed relatives wandering about in a state of shock as the trio were taken in for questioning. Other members of the family had no idea about the plot, police were told.

While netizens praised the police for their quick detective work, the robbery victims disclosed they were mulling suing the bank for its carelessness.

“They did not check on the woman’s facial appearance or scrutinise her signature,” Ms Mud complained.

Police were able to retrieve all the stolen goods but for about 10,000 baht in cash. When the bank offered to reimburse the couple, Ms Mud and her husband decided to drop their complaint. Krungthai Bank also apologised for its lax security.

Mike reunites with son

Actor Pirat “Mike” Nitipaisankul insists there is no chance of him reuniting with the mother of his child, Italian-Thai model Sarah Casinghini, despite rumours on social media.

Pirat ‘Mike’ Nitipaisankul and Maxwell

Mike came out to clear the air last week after Sarah and her lawyer arranged for him to meet his son, Maxwell, aged six, in Bangkok, the first time father and son had been together in months. Maxwell lives with Sarah’s family in Phuket.

Touching media images showed Mike cuddling his son, both wearing sanitary masks as a Covid precaution, at the handover in Bangkok on Oct 19.

Lawyers for Mike and Sarah have set down tomorrow for talks on a custody dispute in which Mike initially took Sarah to court seeking formal rights as the boy’s father amid claims she had been denying him access to the child. Mike works in China but has been stuck in Thailand during Covid-19.

Sarah opposed the demand as she is worried they will argue over whether the child lives and goes to school. More recently, after Sarah disclosed publicly she now has a second child, a two-month-old daughter born to a Ukrainian model, Mike has withdrawn the court action.

Formal rights as the boy’s father, while giving him a bigger say in the child’s life, would also commit him to support payments which he now fears could go to another man’s child. Mike declared he will no longer send child support to Sarah, but will save money in a bank account and hand it over to Maxwell when he comes of age.

Sarah’s side is keen to ensure he still pays some expenses should it be needed as she grapples with the prospect of being a solo mum to two children.

The father of Sarah’s second child, Emily, Ukrainian model Vadim Ashab, says he is too young to take on the role of father.

Vadim, who works in China, is stuck there during Covid. Despite Vadim getting cold feet, Sarah insists they had started planning for a family before the relationship ended in February, a mere two months after it had begun.

As media reports suggest signs of progress on the child custody front, Mike moved last week to head off rumours that he and Sarah could get back together, after a Facebook post by her lawyer, Pramarn Laungwattanawanich, left open the prospect.

“There is no chance of our relationship progressing beyond that of Maxwell’s father and mother, which is a duty we must perform,” he wrote.

“If it wasn’t for the fact we have a child together we would be on parallel paths with no chance of connecting,” he added. From now on, he said, he would stand up for himself and clarify such comments, rather than allow himself to be “manipulated emotionally”.

Meanwhile, he was enjoying his time with Maxwell, pictured on social media with a watch containing an in-built smartphone which his father had bought him.

“He learns so fast he has been calling me every 10 minutes. You teach him something, he can do the lot himself,” Mike enthused.

Cafe owner wades into politics

The owner of a coffee shop in Chon Buri is being hailed for her devotion to royalty after ejecting students whom she said were plotting their next protest gathering seeking reform of the monarchy.

Thananit Putthisarunroj, 41, who runs a cafe in Muang district, Bang Saen, said she asked a group of about 10 students from Burapha University to leave her shop on Oct 20 after she overheard them talking about the monarchy. She later posted an account on her Facebook.

Ms Thananit said: “People can think differently, and I have to accept customers from both sides of the debate, but I thought if I don’t stop them now even more will join them later. I do not want people criticising the monarchy in my shop.

“I have never asked customers to leave before, and felt bad doing it. I know it’s a service job but wasn’t scared I would miss out on sales as a result,” she said.

The students tossed out of her shop denied criticising the monarchy. After Ms Thananit posted her account, some of them replied, saying they were merely discussing the protests held the day before.

The exchange drew strong reactions on both sides, with some critics saying Ms Thananit should post a sign outside her shop if such customers were not welcome.

Ms Thananit said she would rather focus on the many first-time customers who have turned up at her shop in the days since to thank her for backing the monarchy.

Some customers had come from as far as Saraburi, Chachoengsao, and Bangkok to show their appreciation, she said.

One visitor from Bangkok said he had travelled to her shop as soon as he heard the news. “I was impressed she would stick to her principles so firmly, and think she was brave,” he said.

A visitor from Chon Buri said he was shocked to find the shop full of customers when he arrived. Ms Thananit was so busy fielding orders that she had to ask new arrivals such as himself to help serve the tables.

Ms Thananit said she was grateful for customers’ support. Since the story aired in the media, the Chon Buri governor and a cabinet minister had also been in touch to pass on their thanks.

Sales had gone from 1,000 baht a day to more than 10,000 baht a day, she said.

Newly-wed thief out of luck