NETO'S TUCSON

South Tucson $1M lottery winner dumps his girlfriend and begins his new life - in Yuma

S. Tucson lottery player 'Memo' jilts girlfriend, clears out of town
2012-12-09T00:00:00Z 2012-12-09T19:50:56Z South Tucson $1M lottery winner dumps his girlfriend and begins his new life - in YumaErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
December 09, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Tucson isn't exactly brimming with millionaires. And they're unheard of in the one-square-mile city of South Tucson.

But someone bought a $1 million ticket at a little market there in last week's humongous $587.5 million Powerball jackpot.

And I'm on a mission to find the winner.

My first clue: The winning ticket was sold at T&T Market, 2048 S. Sixth Ave. The winner cashed it in for $700,000, after tax, the day after the Nov. 28 drawing - and asked the Arizona Lottery to remain anonymous.

I love a good mystery, so I head over to the market that sold the lucky ticket.

"I honestly don't know" the name of the winner, Kenyon Gee tells me as he greets customers in Spanish or English. "But if I saw him I'm sure I would recognize him."

Kenyon and his wife, Terry, have owned T&T Market for 22 years.

Before I leave defeated, Gee throws me a bone: "I heard from some customers that his name is 'Memo.'"

Memo is a common nickname for the popular Mexican first name Guillermo. Do you know how many Memos live in predominantly Hispanic South Tucson?

Neither do I. But I bet a million bucks - or even $700,000 after taxes - there are more of them here than anywhere else in the metro area.

Still, there's only one million-dollar Memo. He can't be that hard to find.

I ask Gee if he remembers selling Memo his ticket.

"Terry seems to think I did, but I don't remember," he says. "Let's give Terry all the glory."

(The glory of selling that winning ticket earned the Gees $5,000, says Karen Bach, director of communications for the state lottery.)

The market is busy this afternoon. Most of the customers live nearby. Gee, whose grandfather opened the store in 1942, knows most everyone who walks through the door.

Someone here must be Memo's friend or neighbor.

So I wait awhile, and in comes LoRetta Santos. She knows Memo - well, kinda.

"Someone told me he won the ticket," she says.

But she doesn't know where he lives.

A couple of other customers say the same thing. They, too, have heard that Memo won, but they haven't seen him since the drawing.

Then Oscar Flores helps me crack the case.

"I saw him a day before the drawing," Flores tells me in Spanish. "He asked me for a quarter."

Flores has been looking for Memo since he heard his pal won a million bucks. He wants his quarter back.

He can't tell me where Memo is, but he does tell me where Memo lives.

I head to the duplex a few blocks away. Alas, I do not find the elusive Memo - but I do meet the girlfriend he left behind.

Theresa Montalvo was in California when her boyfriend of five years struck it rich. She came home the next day to find him gone. Her neighbors told her about the Powerball drawing.

Where he did go, I ask? Gambling in Vegas? Sunning on some exotic beach? Living it up in Rio?

"He left for Yuma," she says.

He went there to spend time with his daughter and help some family members remodel homes, she tells me.

Oddly, she doesn't seem too upset that her man dumped her just hours after entering a new tax bracket. She speaks fondly of Memo, telling me he's a nice guy. She says he recently returned from a four-month gig harvesting tobacco in Kentucky.

I later learn from court documents that Memo was one of 10 kids born and raised in Mexico. He quit school in the ninth grade to help his widowed mother, and now is a divorced father of three. Ten years ago, he was working in a Phoenix slaughterhouse making $7.50 an hour.

I also learn that Memo has been convicted three times of driving while under the influence. The last time was in 2002, and he was sent to prison for a year on that charge in 2006 for violating the terms of his probation.

And, poof, that's it for my rags-to-riches Powerball fantasy. I had hoped the winner would be a struggling young widower who plans to use the money to buy his brilliant little girl an electric wheelchair and send her to the expensive prep school that will be her ticket to a better tomorrow.

Now that I've found Memo, I'm not even sure I want to meet him. And it's just as well, because Theresa tells me she's seen him just once since he cashed his ticket, when he came by to pick up his clothes.

She asked him what's up. He didn't say much.

And the money? she asked him.

What money? he responded.

"He denied having won the lottery," she tells me.

What a guy.

But Memo did give his girl some parting gifts.

First, his words of wisdom: "God bless," he told Theresa, "and be careful."

Next, he offered her a share of his winnings - a very small share.

She holds up a pair of crisp but slightly bent greenbacks.

"He gave me two $50 bills," she says.

She plans to frame them.

Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at (520) 573-4187 or at netopjr@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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