WOONSOCKET – There’s a whole raft of Americans who are dubious of the very existence of the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol and the wild, joyous screams of its surprised winners, voluminously captured in TV ads, but Michel Lepine isn’t one of them.
The PCH Prize Patrol dropped an oversized check for $100,000 on the 62-year-old factory worker on Jan. 18 – the hard way.
Before Prize Patrollers Howie Guja and Kiel Patrick could hand over the dough, they had to stare down the skeptics and hunt down the winner like a pair of tenacious bird dogs. Armed with a celebratory bouquet of roses, a teddy bear and a colorful bunch of balloons, they knocked on Lepine’s door, but no one answered. The Prize Patrol was ready to intercept him at work, but his neighbors – not even his own brother, Richard Lepine – seemed to know where that was.
Finally, someone did show up, but it wasn’t the winner. It was the police department.
“They were very nice,” said Guja. “One out of every 15 people, we have hard time finding them. But I’ve never had the police called on me.”
After some back and forth with ID’s and video clips of Guja giving away prizes elsewhere – he just delivered a check for $1 million to a lucky winner in Oklahoma City a week earlier – Lepine was finally urged to come to his apartment at 84 Hebert Ave.
Despite all the maneuvering in the background to get him there, he still didn’t know why until he arrived.
One curious neighbor couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when the Prize Patrol caught up with Lepine, a quiet, keeps-to-himself kind of guy, in her estimation.
“Unless you’re blocking his driveway, he’s not gonna say nothin’,” she speculated.
She was wrong, though. True to PCH TV-commercial form, Lepine was visibly moved by the unexpected stroke of luck.
“It was really, really exciting,” Lepine said in a phone interview later. “I was a little choked up there at one point.”
Lepine has worked for the same company, Engineered Material Solutions in Attleboro, for 15 years. The company makes metal parts for electrical components like light switches and plugs. Lepine runs the “company store,” which is responsible for filling orders.
While some may doubt the existence of PCH, Lepine has been buying magazines and other merchandise from the company for decades and he never missed an opportunity to enter the company’s sweepstakes.
“I’ve been doing it for for 33 years, I’ve been turning in every single sweepstakes there is,” he said.
Lepine once won $10,000 in the lottery, but the PCH prize is by far his most lucrative jackpot yet.
He says he might use some of his winnings to buy a new set of golf clubs, but he’ll probably let his brother Richard invest most of it for him – after all, that’s his job. He runs Lepine Financial Advisors on Mendon Road in Cumberland and also served as Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt’s campaign manager in 2013.
It was Richard Lepine who called the cops on the PCH crew, apparently concerned that someone was trying to run some sort of scam on his brother.
At one point, Lepine contacted The Call, whose staffers were accompanying the Prize Patrol on Hebert Avenue to capture the moment when they surprised him with the check.
“Is this for real?” he wanted to know, sounding deeply perplexed.
The Prize Patrol had reached out to The Call days earlier with an invite for a behind-the-scenes look at how the PCH doles out the cash. Guja and Patrick rendezvoused behind Fontana’s Flowers with The Call and a freelance photographer from New Hampshire, hired to shoot video as they rehearsed for the surprise knock on Hebert’s door.
“Somebody’s gonna get $100,000,” Patrick exclaimed, as they trotted off camera for the trek to Lepine’s house.
Founded in 1953 by Harold Mertz in Port Washington, N.Y., Publisher’s Clearing House was established as a door-to-door sales operation dealing exclusively in magazine subscriptions.
Around 1985, however, the company starting branching out with other merchandise – the first two products were a Hershey’s chocolate cookbook and a diet cookbook. Around 1985 the company began diversifying its product line, now offering a wide range of jewelry, media, collectibles, household items and more.
In addition, PCH runs an online game network with more than 10 million unique visits per month, awarding prizes “about every five minutes,” according to PCH publicity staff. To date, they say, PCH has given away nearly $400 million in cash prizes ranging from $1,000 to $10 million – presenting poster-sized checks to surprised winners who are invariably screaming for joy on TV when the golden lightning strikes.
The one presumption about PCH that really is false is that Ed McMahon was associated with the company. Comedian Johnny Carson’s sidekick on “The Tonight Show” for many years, McMahon worked for a competitor, the now-defunct American Family Publishers.
“Real people really do win,” PCH says. “The winners you see being surprised by the Publisher’s Clearing House Prize Patrol on our TV commercials are not actors but the actual winners at the actual moment of winning. There is no staging or pre-notification.”
The surprise factor was a double-edged sword for Michel Lepine, but nobody blames his brother for calling the cops.
“He called me back to apologize,” said Guja. “He was just looking out for his brother and trying to make sure we weren’t trying to pull some kind of convoluted scam on him.”
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo