Rumored winner of $197 million jackpot seems to have `completely disappeared'

Big Game ticket holder said to be Boston cabbie who hails from Nigeria

April 14, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BOSTON -- A "Who Won It" mystery has gripped this city since the Big Game numbers were drawn April 6.

Word has it that an immigrant cabbie is the holder of the ticket to $197 million -- the second-largest jackpot in U.S. history. The rumor is that he works at the dark Town Taxi garage in the shadow of Fenway Park. A place where, if the tale is true, he might never have to work again.

John Ford, Town Taxi's vice president, confirms a biographical sketch of the rumored millionaire: Patrick Okusanya, in his mid-30s, from Nigeria, worked on and off for 10 years as a cabdriver, 60- to 80-hour workweeks, a wife, three children, lives in Chelsea, all in all "a very kick-back, friendly guy."

Or, at least, he was the last time anyone saw him. "He's just completely disappeared," Ford says.

Okusanya was last seen April 7 at the Logan Airport Taxi Pool, where, Ford says, "he showed the winning ticket to several cabdrivers," then left. But if he has the golden ticket, Okusanya has yet to present it to the state lottery office in Braintree.

Nor has Ford seen the ticket. But it's a story he would dearly love to be true.

"You know how hard these guys work," he says. "They come over here with really nothing in their pockets, and it's a tough business. Cabdrivers are the bottom of the pecking order, bottom of the food chain. You're beat on by cops and meter maids. Traffic is brutal. Every day is a new detour."

After a typical 4-a.m.-to-6-p.m. shift, many of Ford's cabbies head down the street to the Star Market in the Fenway to do their shopping and buy their scratch tickets. And that is where the winning ticket was sold -- 12-17-22-33-44 and Big Money Ball No. 25.

On the way to Star Market, you pass Fenway Park, where Michael Hardy, the ballpark's assistant manager of maintenance, says he's convinced. "I know it is a cabdriver [who won] because they had the TV cameras there yesterday, plus I know somebody who knows the guy," says Hardy.

If the story isn't true, Hardy says, maybe that's for the best. A big score like that is just too big. And besides, rich folks don't know how to have fun.

"They go to the marina, the golf course. Boring," Hardy, 32, says. "If I can't get my hands sweaty and dirty, I feel useless."

Others who get their hands dirty see the whole thing this way: Wouldn't it be great if a cabbie got a payday like that? It would be a victory for the little guy, the working stiff.

Many cabbies in the taxi pool agree that if one of their own hit the jackpot and managed to escape this life, well, good for him.

"I heard he called Town Taxi at 5: 30 a.m. and said, `I'm not going to work today. I'm not going to work anymore,' " says Amar Chaabouni, a Town Taxi driver who was born in Tunisia. But that's only what he's heard.

Ford, the vice president of Town Taxi, says the company has heard nothing from Okusanya.

Ford says he wonders, "If it isn't him, who the hell is it?"

Pub Date: 4/14/99

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