'Hand of fate' intervened, as another customer swiped the ticket he was supposed to get
By Todd Northrop
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — When Mike Barth reached for a Snickers bar as he stood at the counter to buy a Mega Millions lottery ticket, someone reached over his shoulder and bought the next ticket.
"I thought about saying something but decided to just let it slide," Barth said about the Quick Pick ticket sold right before the one he purchased at 2:40 p.m. last Friday.
"I bought the next ticket — the winning ticket!"
So the "fickle finger of fate," as he called it today, turned Barth, who also purchased a Quick Pick ticket where the computer randomly chooses numbers, and his six fellow state IT workers into millionaires when they won the $319 million Mega Millions jackpot on Friday night.
The seven winners are:
- John Hilton, 57, of North Greenbush (Rensselaer County)
- Gabrielle Mahar, 29, of Colonie (Albany County)
- John Kutey, 54, of Green Island (Albany County)
- Tracy Sussman, 41, of Colonie (Albany County)
- Mike Barth, 63, of Bethlehem (Albany County)
- Kristin Baldwin, 42, of Clifton Park (Saratoga County)
- Leon Peck, 62, of Johnstown (Fulton County)
The "Albany Seven" made their first public appearance at a news conference this morning holding oversized posters of the winning ticket. The co-workers traded in those cards for seven oversized checks, each bearing their name, as family and friends applauded.
The group gathered around a large cake that resembled the winning ticket.
"We’ve been playing the big jackpots for years," recalled Barth, who was in Buffalo over the weekend and thought his co-workers were calling him because the computer servers were down in the office.
Hilton said he hid the winning ticket in two plastic bags and a bucket of bird feed inside his basement for the weekend.
Hilton said the $319,000,000 pot was the kind of jackpot that made it worth throwing in the usual $2 per person. "We usually start playing when the jackpot hits $100,000,000," he said, adding, "We're pretty buttoned up. We keep a checklist of who's in and who's out for any particular drawing. You've got to."
Each of the seven will get a lump sum of $28.9 million before taxes, or $19.1 million, after taxes.
The group said there were some co-workers who had played in the past who chose not to play this time. None of them said they are ready to retire at this point.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," said Hilton.
Gabrielle Mahar was the first of the group's members to discover the seven had the winning combination worth $319,000,000. "I was up late reading and wanted to catch the numbers but missed them. I was dialing up the Lottery website on my phone when the numbers scrolled across the screen. I was dumbfounded." She hesitated before calling her current (soon to be former) supervisor Kristin Baldwin. "It was late. What if it wasn't real? I didn't know what to do," Mahar said.
Mahar said she "checked it, and rechecked it and rechecked it" while holding a photocopy of the winning ticket.
The phone chain reached Leon Peck early the next morning. "We're IT people. We get calls all the time about malfunctioning servers so I figured that was why my phone was ringing so early in the morning," Peck, the usual office prankster, thought the call might be pay back for one too many wise cracks made in the office. "But, I didn't think anyone would be calling that early on a Saturday just to play a joke on me." Tracy Sussman said she shared Peck's initial reaction to receiving an early Saturday morning call from a co-worker. "I got on the phone and said, 'What's wrong now?'"
Although Mega Millions winners have 60 days from the date they claim their prize to decide if they want to receive the annuity payment or the cash value of that annuity, the close-knit group was sure upon arriving at the Lottery's offices that they would share the lump sum amount of $202,797,203. "We met as a group with a financial advisor the day before. We were all in agreement about the lump sum," Baldwin said. Each group member will receive a one-time payment totaling $28,971,029 before state and federal tax withholdings. The net value of each check will total $19,129,571.
The group's immediate plans for the money run the gamut.
For Mahar, it means a new dishwasher.
For Barth it's a set of new tires and a college education for his son "not based on where he can go, but where he wants to go," said the father of a graduating high school senior.
John Hilton said he's taking the celebrity approach to his new fortune, "I just want to fly somewhere in first class," he said.
For John Kutey, the choice is simple, "My wife and I are going to every Disney Park there is!" The others have yet to make up their minds.
(Click to display full-size in gallery)
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