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Advice from other lucky LIers for Mega Million winners

Janet Alnwick won $22 million in January 2009

Janet Alnwick won $22 million in January 2009 after buying a Mega Millions Quick Pick ticket at a 7-Eleven in North Bellmore. (Dec. 31, 2009) Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

For the Long Island couple who are ready to claim a $162 million jackpot - perhaps as early as Monday - finding good advice on what to do with their windfall may be tough.

But several former lottery winners from Long Island said they know what it's like to stumble upon a life-changing sum of money.

For many of Long Island's luckiest lottery players, winning the money meant being able to help those they loved, and spend more time with them.

>> PHOTOS: Mega Millions winner on Long Island

>> VIDEO: Janet Alnwick tells her Mega Millions story

In some cases the winners paid for fairy-tale weddings for their children. Others financed the educations of relatives. Many took dream vacations with their families.

And most of them offered advice for Long Island's newest multimillionaires.

"If I won what those people won," said Joanne Ponzi, of South Setauket, who split a $1 million lottery victory with her sister, "I'd buy a street with a lot of houses on that street to put my family in."

Janet Alnwick still can't believe she won $22 million last January by buying a winning Mega Millions Quick Pick ticket at a 7-Eleven in North Bellmore.

"I still drive around and don't understand why me," she said Thursday. "It just boggles my mind."

Alnwick, 53, still lives in the same Merrick house and devotes much of her energy - and some of her winnings - to caring for her ailing mother, 87.

"I just love her so much that I took her out of a nursing home," said Alnwick, who pays her mother's medical expenses, including private nursing.

Alnwick, who had already retired as a saleswoman when she won, opted for a $15-million lump sum, which after taxes was $10.3 million.

So far, Alnwick has focused on helping others: donating about $20,000 to charities such as Amnesty International, the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals; buying her church a $13,000 stove; financing her niece's college education; and giving $10,000 to her hairdresser.

For herself, she's remodeling her kitchen and plans to buy a new Toyota Avalon. Alnwick went on some vacations, including twice to Aruba and to the Dominican Republic.

"I'm not the kind of person who needs a Mercedes or BMW or Coach boots," she said. "I don't need those things to say who I am."

Alnwick is excited about the future. "I have a lot of dreams that I want to do," she said. "I want to go to China, Ireland and Tahiti."

Single with no children, Alnwick is also dating, she said, adding that she doesn't tell suitors that she's a multimillionaire. "If I ever marry, there would be a pre-nup," she vowed with a laugh.

A million dollars, split with her sister, wasn't enough money to draw much attention, said Joanne Ponzi, but it helps their family remain close-knit.

Ponzi, 42, of South Setauket, won on a $5 Bedazzled scratch-off ticket in 2007. She gave her sister, Lauren Cusumano, 41, of Holbrook, half. They each receive $25,000 payments every year.

"I always called it a blessing," said Ponzi, who continues to be a stay-at-home mom. "We could make sure we can stay close. Now we have a little extra to do it. We never have to wonder where the next dollar will come from."

The money helps do fun things like take their children bowling or to jaunts to New York City and Foxwoods casino. They're planning a Caribbean cruise in August.

"It really hasn't changed my life much," she said of the money. "It does help with a lot of nice things."

Ponzi said she still cherishes the experience of winning, and the announcement at an Islanders game. "It was an amazing feeling," she said.

Her advice to the Rocky Point winners: "Not to tell anybody. Only because when money comes around, a lot of people try to take advantage of you. I would just tell them, enjoy your life."

"I personally would love to tell them that money doesn't change your life," she said. "Always keep family with you. Health is very important. You can't buy health with your money."

She pondered what it would be like to be those winners. "If I won what those people won," she said, "I'd buy a street with a lot of houses on that street to put my family in."

For Richard Giordonella of Cedarhurst, winning a million bucks wasn't a ticket to a new life - just a way to "keep my head above water now," he said.

Giordonella still drives a truck for a living and still lives in the same home with his wife, Linda, who said the couple continues to relish time with their "big Italian family" more than anything.

Richard won $1 million in a scratch-off game in November 2006, a month when he was one of several big winners in a record-setting year for the New York Lottery.

Richard gets $50,000 per year, before taxes, for 20 years for his big win.

The money comes every November, which Linda said is very helpful for holiday shopping. Richard said he has used much of the money to pay off bills and make minimal upgrades to his home, including a new boiler.

"No bills. And I usually had $10,000 in the hole in credit cards," he said.

The Giordonellas splurged on a big wedding for one of their two daughters this year, but they have stayed away from extravagant spending, Richard and Linda said.

Richard, 50, said he drives a heavy industrial truck for a company that recently completed construction work at the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and will begin work on the Brooklyn Bridge in March. He said he has been driving trucks for 30 years.

He has no plans to stop working, in part because he says the money "is not enough to retire - no way."

But it is enough money to "make life a little easier," Linda said.

"I wouldn't call it a ton," Richard said. "It's enough to keep you nice. A little ease."

A week after Lydia Moore won $5 million with a Livin' Large instant game ticket purchased at a Bayville candy store in 2004, she was arrested and charged with grand larceny - accused of stealing more than $100,000 from an elderly blind man before winning the lottery.

"We worked out a deal and my name was cleared," she said Thursday, declining to discuss the case. Records indicate she has no criminal history.

The charge was dismissed, said her attorney, James Toner of Mineola, who hired an investigator to prove the alleged victim had given Moore the money as gifts.

A spokesman for the Nassau district attorney's office said the disposition of the case was sealed.

Meanwhile, Moore and her husband, Claude, moved from Glen Head and purchased a $640,000 home in Brookhaven, which she said still has a mortgage.

The lottery changed their lives "tremendously for the better," she said. "We have a home of our own. We're living life one day at a time."

The Moores receive their winnings in annual payments of about $250,000 before taxes, she said. They help their children and grandchildren financially and took some vacations to Las Vegas and Trinidad.

"We live a very humble life," she said while driving home from grocery shopping. "I think anyone who wins should do the same. They don't have to be splashy and get the most expensive jewelry."

Looking back on winning $1 million in the New York Lotto in 2006, John Massaro wishes he hired a lawyer and an accountant.

"You thought you were richer than you were," Massaro, 55, said Thursday. "The money went fast."

His advice to the Rocky Point winners: "Don't go off on a binge before the money's in your pocket."

After buying a new Mustang for his teenage daughter, who was recovering from cancer, Massaro was lured by companies that offered money upfront for his future earnings at a big cut, which he said was an unwise decision.

"I got like $100,000 left at the end," he said. "I needed the money."

He's not sure where the money went, he said, beyond the car, keeping up his Nesconset home and educating three children.

The money did help put the family "on the right track," because Massaro's wife had died a year before he won.

Massaro, a brick mason, said he's gained 20 pounds since the win and offered more advice to future winners: "You've got to continue to exercise and work."

>> PHOTOS: Mega Millions winner on Long Island

>> VIDEO: Janet Alnwick tells her Mega Millions story

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