Richie Randazzo became New York's luckiest and most famous doorman last year when he scored a $5 million lottery prize.
The wisecracking 45-year-old from Gravesend, Brooklyn, became an overnight sensation, hitting the media circuit to tell his rags-to-riches story and enjoying a sitdown on Howard Stern's radio show.
But even after hitting the jackpot, Randazzo could not escape his troubled past.
For nearly two decades the one-time Park Ave. doorman had been a drug addict and, at one point, was homeless. He credits a stint in rehab for helping turn his life around 10 years ago.
"I remember very little of the '80s — it was just a blur — but I had a great time," Randazzo deadpanned before turning serious. "I never had goals. I had good direction, but I never took it."
Mindful of where he's been and how easily life can fall apart, the lottery winner said he's played it safe with his winnings so far.
While Randazzo no longer works — he got booted from his job at 1021 Park Ave. after skipping out to Atlantic City one day with his then girlfriend — he still lives in the same modest home, which his parents own. He said he has no major debts.
For a year, he made no major purchases: no waterfront home in Florida, no fancy watches. He just indulged in his first big buy, a $45,000 black Lexus for his parents. He's now considering getting dental implants.
Although it would be a fortune for most New Yorkers, Randazzo will tell you his winnings weren't all that big. Sure, his winning ticket in the lottery's Set For Life instant scratchoff game guarantees him at least $5 million. But the rules dictate that he gets a $65,000 check every three months, for the rest of his life. After taxes, he takes home the equivalent of $3,500 a week.
"There ain't that much money," Randazzo said. "I got the small stuff that fell off the sides of the Mega Millions."
He's turned down offers to buy his ticket in exchange for an upfront payout.
"My philosophy was to make no drastic moves," Randazzo said. "Pick up a bill, pick up a tab here and there, send mom and dad an anonymous check every once in a while, save for a few years and build some capital."
Given the prominent financial failings of many prior lottery winners, the Daily News offered to arrange for some professional guidance, and Randazzo accepted. A Money Makeover was set up with certified financial planner Charles Failla of Sovereign Financial Group.
The ex-doorman decided to bring an entourage — his parents, Cora and Frank Randazzo, who were visiting from West Palm Beach, Fla., and two longtime neighborhood buddies, Lenny Ferrara and Frankie Lavoti.
While Randazzo is guaranteed income, he has no hedge against inflation, Failla noted. As the years go by, his $14,000 in posttax monthly winnings will buy less and less.
When Failla asked Randazzo about his expenses, he said he needed $4,000 a month to get by. He quickly added another $1,000 a month for trips to Atlantic City. That means he could save at least $100,000 a year without changing his lifestyle.
That money should go toward investments that should grow and generate income, Failla said. "The goal is to take this cash flow and create wealth."
Randazzo told Failla he's considered buying a small business or franchise, but the planner cautioned against it because of the experience and time commitment required. If he wants to be an entrepreneur, Failla said, a wiser choice would be residential real estate.
"Real estate needs a lot less experience and is an easier business to learn," said Failla, who follows the strategy himself. "I have a condo I haven't walked into in a year and a half."
"That's a beautiful thing," Randazzo said.
Buying property — Failla recommended bargain-priced Florida condos — would provide rental income and tax deductions.
"Save a hundred grand and then start buying stuff," Failla said. "I would buy some stocks, but real estate will give you something stocks will not: a tax break."
Failla recommended an investment portfolio with 80% concentrated in real estate and 20% in stock and bond funds.
"Assuming your investments grow 6% a year, you will be a millionaire in seven and a half years, Failla said. "You are a millionaire waiting to happen."
After the meeting, Randazzo sat down with his parents and friends over lasagna and meatballs to talk about what he'd learned.
The session "opened my mind to other options; there is more to capitalize on. There is risk involved, but life is a risk," he said. Would he invest 80% of his savings in condos?
"Right now, no," he said. "Maybe in a year or so. The most successful people in my neighborhood own a lot of real estate."
"I think he should take his advice," Cora Randazzo said.
"Sure, she wants me to live next to her," her son said. "Who's she B.S.-ing?"
She would also like to see her single son who dated a Swedish model who danced at a lap dance club soon after he won get married.
"Why make one miserable when I can make more happy?" he told his mom. "When I meet her, I meet her."
Randazzo talked about other goals, which mostly involved him returning to the spotlight. He wanted to go on "Deal or No Deal" and give his winnings to the drug treatment center that helped him. He wants to inspire addicts with his story of recovery and believes his life would make a great book.
"There will be people who will try to take advantage of you," his mom warned.
"Richie is street smart," said his friend, Lavoti. "He will apply that to his earnings."
In the meantime, Randazzo will continue to take trips to Atlantic City, hang out with his buddies and ride his bicycle to Coney Island. He has plenty of time to think about how lucky he's been and how his luck could fade.
"What if I sell my ticket to a lending company? What if I buy something that is way out of my means?" he said. "This was given to me so easily, and it could be taken away."
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Thanks to duce for the tip.