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Unemployed New Jersey man nearly lost his winning $273M Mega Millions ticket

"I put the tickets down to put my money away and did something with my phone and just walked away," the 54-year-old winner said.
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An unemployed New Jersey man who scored a $273 million Mega Millions jackpot has a stranger to thank for reuniting him with his winning ticket that he left behind at the convenience store where he bought it.

The stranger — who saved Michael J. Weirsky, 54, from missing out on the prize — found two $2 lottery tickets that Weirsky forgot on the counter of the Quick Chek in rural Warren County.

Weirsky said at a press conference Thursday that he left the slips behind over "the typical cellphone deal."

"I was paying more attention to my cellphone," he said. "I put the tickets down to put my money away and did something with my phone and just walked away."

The store held the tickets for him, and Weirsky managed to pick them up the next day.

One of his slips was worth the $273 million jackpot, according to the New Jersey Lottery. His one-time payment will be $162.5 million before state and federal taxes.

Weirsky said he has met with a lawyer and a financial adviser, and as soon as they tell him he can "go crazy" he plans on enjoying the money. He said he is interested in buying a Ford Raptor pickup truck and taking his family on a vacation.

"I always wanted to know what it would be like to wake up and just decide to go somewhere and just do it," he said. "When I get the money, I’m going to do that. I’m going to try that."

Weirsky, who lives just east of the Delaware River in Alpha, said the money will "change everything" for him because he's been unemployed for years. He spent the last 15 years unemployed while his former wife worked. They divorced in October.

The last year has been filled with odd jobs and a fruitless job search because of his lack of employment history, Weirsky said.

"At 54 years old, I was getting offered $8 an hour, $10 an hour jobs," Weirsky told NBC News on Thursday. "I knew I couldn't survive off that."

He said he is now planning to take it easy for a while and figure out what he'd like to do next.

Weirsky's next move, though, is to track down the person who returned his winning tickets to the store cashier. He said he wants to meet with the person privately and offer some kind of reward.

“I wouldn’t have $273 million if it wasn’t for them, they would have it," Weirsky said, getting emotional. "So if they're that honest, they're good enough people for me."