The $131.5 million question

Posted: June 25, 2013

MEET GARY PATEL, the most popular guy in Point Breeze.

Owner of Federal Beer. Father of twin babies. Good dude.

Also, Patel is about to bank a six-figure bonus after a Pennsylvania Lottery employee yesterday covertly verified that the $131.5 million winning Powerball ticket was bought at his store at 15th and Federal.

The jackpot winner hasn't come forward yet, but the whole neighborhood seemed to have a spring in its step yesterday after the rain subsided and the TV news vans started rolling in, looking for Gary.

"You sold the Powerball ticket? Congrats, Gary!" customer Kim Morfiah said - actually, yelled at the top of her lungs - to Patel from the store's doorway. "Oh, my God, somebody in the 'hood is rich!"

"Which is good," replied Patel, who will receive $100,000 for selling the ticket.

It didn't matter to customers that this soon-to-be-rich person hasn't been identified. Patel's machine, located in their beer distributor in their patch of South Philly, produced that ticket. Gave birth to it. Odds of a winner? One in 175,223,510.

"That's great," a gravely-voiced man with an ear-to-ear smile said to no one in particular as he strolled through the scene.

Patel, 30, who was born in India and immigrated to the United States as a teenager, answered questions from one reporter after another like a triumphant, but humble, athlete in the locker room.

"It's getting crazy . . . uh, I don't like pictures," Patel, sporting camo shorts and a V-neck, said lowly, as he politely let photographers snap away. He paused to ring up a case of Yuengling, $22.50. He picked up the phone and read the winning lottery numbers to a curious caller.

"Remember this face when you get all that money," a customer said.

Everyone kept asking Patel what he's going to do with his $100,000 bonus. Turns out, he's very business-oriented and family-oriented. He's not very Gary-oriented.

"I want to make sure my employees are happy," said Patel, who plans to give them each a bonus. The rest, he said, will probably go into a college fund for his 5-month-old twins, a boy and a girl. Asked if he plans to spend any money on himself or take a vacation, Patel reiterated the part about having twins at home. "I can't go anywhere," he chuckled.

Yesterday morning, a lottery employee mysteriously showed up at Federal Beer. He collected some information and was on his way.

It wasn't until Patel got a call from a reporter around noon that he connected the dots.

"My wife didn't believe me when I called. I had to FaceTime her," he said, referring to the iPhone video-chat feature. "Then she believed me."

Morfiah, who buys lotto tickets at Federal Beer, was fired up to hear the news. It's nice having an epicenter of luckiness across the street.

"A lot of people are struggling from day to day, paycheck to paycheck. I wish I could just hit for $500," Morfiah said. "Whoever it is, God bless 'em."

Elizabeth Brassell, a spokeswoman for the state Revenue Department, said the winner won't be identified until today at the earliest, when government offices open. The person or group with the winning ticket - 13-19-23-33-57, and the red Powerball 28 - has the option of taking the $131.5 million annuity, or $77.4 million cash, minus the 25 percent federal withholding.

"It seems Saturday night's 'Super Moon' shone down some 'super luck' on a fortunate Pennsylvania Lottery Powerball player," said Lottery Executive Director Todd Rucci.

"I really hope it's a regular, someone from the neighborhood," Patel said. "It's what they say: You gotta play to win."

Last year, 48 SEPTA workers hit a $172.7 million Powerball jackpot and took the $107.5 million cash payment, minus taxes.

Amid yesterday's celebration, a retired Philly sanitation worker who identified himself only as "June Dog" walked into Federal Beer and slid a winning lottery ticket under the window at the counter. Not quite $131.5 million, he admitted, but 40 bucks is 40 bucks.

"At least I can get me a case of beer," he said.

June Dog walked out with a case of Bud Light and a smile.


On Twitter: @wbender99

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