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Lottery ‘Millionaires’ Still Working Overtime

August 20, 1986

MOUNT VERNON, N.Y. (AP) _ Their friends call them millionaires, and most have new cars, larger apartments or VCRs. But 19 of the 21 workers who won a share of a $41 million lottery jackpot a year ago still work on an assembly line.

The ″Lucky 21,″ whose good fortune, good spirits and ethnic mix made them famous, actually net only about $24,000 each per year in winnings after federal taxes, they said.

″We’re not poor, but we’re not millionaires,″ says Kevin Fleming, 32.

″What’s changed?″ says Virat (Willy) Lao, 36, of Yonkers. ″I’m still wearing my uniform.″

The men, from 14 countries, had pooled their money to play Lotto and wound up with one of three winning tickets in the Aug. 21, 1985, drawing, which had a jackpot of $41 million to be paid out over 20 years. They agreed to split their $13,666,667 evenly.

Nineteen still work at the Hantscho printing press factory in an industrial section of Mount Vernon, north of New York City. Manuel Garcete, who was credited with picking the six winning numbers, has returned to his native Paraguay. Jimmy Chew has gone into business for himself.

″If it were a bad place to work, I’d quit,″ said Fleming, whose father also worked at Hantscho. ″But it’s not.″

The 19 still show up at 7 a.m. Monday to Friday - and some Saturdays on overtime. Many have wives who work. The men earn about $25,000 in annual salary, so the lottery prize has made life easier but not grand.

Wilfred Jon-Ming, a native of Suriname, still lives in his two-bedroom Mount Vernon apartment, still drives his 1977 van and still brings his lunch to work.

Luis Ramos still lives with his four children in the Bronx, although he has bought a house in his native Dominican Republic and dreams about returning there and opening his own business.

Lao, a native of Thailand, said he was ″sitting on the money,″ looking for good tax-exempt investments.

Fleming said he has moved into a larger, better apartment, bought a new customized van and visited his brother in San Francisco, seeing him for the first time in 12 years.

″I don’t have to worry about the rent and don’t have to save up six months to buy something I want,″ he said.

Part of every check goes to the American Cancer Society in memory of his mother, he said.

Frank Sukchai moved from an apartment in the Bronx to a house in Yonkers.

″We were planning on a house in the near future. The money made the near future come at the present time,″ he said.

Sukchai says he had already started a fund for his son’s college education and put money away for retirement, and the Lotto winnings prompted him to buy a new second car and custom-made furniture for the new house.

″I’m still broke,″ he laughs.

In addition to the winnings, 17 of the 21 earned $1,500 each for doing lottery ads. They appear in a television spot shouting the names of their native lands - from ″Thailand″ to ″Yonkers.″ And a billboard pictures them with the slogan ″Lotto Made Our American Dream Come True.″

Jon-Ming thinks they could make beer or fast-food commercials.

″People will never forget us,″ he says. ″We made history by doing something good.″

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