Nebraska meatpackers carve up $365 million Powerball jackpot

Thursday, February 23, 2006

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Eight workers at a Nebraska meatpacking plant are really bringing home the bacon now: They stepped forward Wednesday to claim the biggest lottery jackpot in U.S. history -- $365 million.

The seven men and one woman bought the winning Powerball ticket at a convenience store near the ConAgra ham processing plant where they worked. At least three of the winners are immigrants -- two from Vietnam and one from the Congo.

"This is great country!" said Quang Dao, 56, who came to the United States in 1988. He still has family in Vietnam and said he plans to help them financially with his winnings.

The previous U.S. jackpot record was $363 million, won by two ticketholders in Illinois and Michigan in 2000.

The Nebraska workers had the option of taking the money in one lump sum or 30 annual installments. They chose the lump sum and will get $15.5 million each after taxes.

Three of the group quit their jobs when they hit the jackpot.

"I've been retired for about four days now," said Eric Zornes, 40.

Alain Maboussou, 26, said he fled the Congo in 1999 to escape unrest after the civil war there. He said he plans to quit work and return to school for a degree in business administration. The money will provide for his wife and baby daughter.

"She's going to be happy for the rest of her life," he said of the 3-month-old girl.

Mike Terpstra, a 47-year-old plant supervisor who is single and has no children, was unsure what to do with the money. "Everybody has dreams," he said. "Buy an island. Buy an airplane. In reality, I'm not a fan of flying and don't really like water."

The winners said they often pooled their money with other workers when Powerball jackpots exceeded $40 million.

Dung Tran, 34, has worked at the meatpacking plant for 15 years after leaving Vietnam. He held onto the winning ticket until the group validated it with lottery officials.

During a news conference, he pointed into the crowd to the convenience-store clerk who sold him the ticket -- hinting, perhaps, a tip might be forthcoming.

"I don't forget her," he said, grinning widely.

The other winners were: David Gehle, 53; Chasity Rutjens, 29; and Robert Stewart, 30.

The winning numbers were 15, 17, 43, 44 and 48, with a Powerball number of 29. The odds of picking the winning combination of numbers were 1 in 146 million.

Powerball tickets are sold in 28 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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