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Former Holland resident wins $533M jackpot

Mike Catalini
Associated Press

Trenton, N.J. – A former Michigan resident who filed for bankruptcy 14 years ago was the sole winner of the $533 million March Mega Millions jackpot.

Richard Wahl, who moved to New Jersey from Holland last July for a new job, was introduced Friday during a news conference. His winnings were the largest in New Jersey history.

Wahl in 2004 filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. District Court’s Western District in Grand Rapids, court records show. After cashing in the winning lottery ticket, Wahl said he plans to retire from his job as a production manager at a food services company.

Wahl said he plans to take the cash payout instead of the annuity. He’ll get $220.7 million after taxes.

He described finding out he had the winning ticket late at night:

“It was truly amazing. Some of my family members were sleeping so I didn’t go and scream out. I walked upstairs. I saw my wife … and said, ‘Baby, we get to go on vacation.’ She said, ‘What are you talking about? Don’t be an idiot.’”

He said he checked the numbers 15 times, kept the ticket in a fireproof safe and wanted to be sure the win was for real before he told other family members.

“Actually the weird thing is my mom actually called me before I wanted to tell her and told me ‘I heard somebody in New Jersey won the lottery, was it you?’” Wahl said. “And I wasn’t ready to share with her yet, so I told her, ‘Absolutely not, mother.’”

He bought the winning ticket at a Lukoil gas station in northern New Jersey and said the numbers were machine-picked: “That’s why we believe it’s God’s plan.”

He said he went back to the Lukoil to fuel up after he won but before he came forward. It happened to be the same day the state lottery was presenting a $30,000 check to the station for selling the winning ticket. He said he saw the cameras and decided to walk out, worried he might be recognized since he wasn’t ready to come forward.

Wahl moved to New Jersey from Michigan in July for work and says one of his dreams is to restore a 1963 Corvette.

He described his family as humble and said they wanted to help people.

“For us the plan is to do a lot of good things with it,” Wahl said. “It’s not only life-changing money for me, but I want it to be life-changing money for family, friends, people in need.”

He said he’s not regular lottery player, but decided to play after talking to a co-worker about how they’d retire if they won. He declined to talk about his family or go into details about where they might go or if they’d move. He said his wife was from Mexico.

The lump-sum option totaled $324.6 million, but after 24 percent in federal taxes and 8 percent for the state, Wahl is taking $220.7 million home, according to acting lottery executive director John White.

Mega Millions is played in 44 states plus Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Wahl’s win was the fourth-biggest in the game’s history.

George Hunter of The Detroit News contributed.