- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Three Maryland public schools employees, one of whom had prayed for help paying bills, are the winning ticket holders in the record-breaking $656 million Mega Millions jackpot, lottery officials said Tuesday.

Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino said the two women and one man who claimed the prize asked to remain anonymous, but he offered some information about the lucky lottery players who came to his office to claim their ticket, “humbled by their stroke of luck.”

The friends, known as “the three amigos,” are a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s, and a woman in her 50s. One is a special-education teacher, another an elementary-school teacher, and one provides administrative support.

All three hold other jobs outside their work in the school system.

“We certainly understand that when people play the lottery they want to win,” Mr. Martino said. “But if it can’t be you, these are precisely the people you’d want to see win the lottery.”

The winning-ticket holders on Monday spoke with lottery officials, who passed along their comments to reporters during a news conference Tuesday.

The March 30 drawing was the first time the friends had pooled their money for the lottery, and each contributed $20 to buy a total of 60 tickets. One of the winners described themselves as a “frequent numbers player,” while another said they occasionally play scratch tickets.

The night of the drawing, the woman who bought the tickets laid them out and watched as the numbers were drawn.

“I had all 60 tickets spread across my floor,” lottery officials quoted the woman as saying. “Once I realized one was a winner, I called my two friends right away.”

One of the women was already asleep when she got the call from her friends, and initially thought it was an early April Fool’s joke.

The three gathered in the early morning hours after the drawing, made copies of the winning ticket, signed them, and took the hard copy to the home of a relative who put it in a safe.

One of the winners called a long-time tax adviser, Mr. Martino said, who helped begin the process of planning how to claim the money and what to do with it once it was in their accounts.

The adviser contacted the state lottery on Friday with the news that a winning ticket was waiting to be claimed.

The trio and the financial adviser arrived at the lottery’s headquarters on Monday “very cheerful, but certainly there was an element of being overwhelmed,” Mr. Martino said.

“One had a smile on their face from the moment they came into the office,” he said.

The ticket, worth $35 million for each person after taxes, was carried in “a tattered, small, white envelope,” Mr. Martino said, and lottery officials had to instruct the friends that they all needed to sign the ticket before it could be claimed.

Overall, the reaction to winning the record-breaking jackpot was “truly heartfelt,” Mr. Martino said. “One talked about how they’d just been in church and said a silent prayer for some help in paying some bills.”

Among the wish lists of the friends — all of whom opted for the lump sum of $35 million after taxes — were new homes and financial investments.

The man said he wanted to pay for his daughters’ college expenses and buy his sister a home. One woman expressed a desire to backpack through Europe with her brother and the other woman said she would be going to “Italy’s wine country.”

The winners told lottery officials that they planned on keeping their jobs with the school system and expressed hope to see some of the $13 million in tax revenue the state will collect return to the public education system.

Security and claims officials checked the authenticity of the ticket and determined that the three people were “definitely the only winners of the jackpot” Mr. Martino said, adding that 37-year-old Mirlande Wilson, an employee at a Baltimore McDonald’s who claimed she had hidden the winning ticket at the fast food restaurant, was not a winner of the jackpot.

Mr. Martino said there would be “no repercussions” from her tale.

The trio had watched the news, they told Mr. Martino, and exchanged a few text messages about the unfolding drama.

The winning ticket was purchased at the 7-Eleven at 8014 Liberty Rd., in Milford Mill. The store will receive a $100,00 agent bonus for selling the winning ticket, Mr. Martino said, but he did not know when it would be awarded.

The jackpot was the largest in history. Two other winning tickets were sold, one in Red Bud, Ill, and another in northeastern Kansas. The winner in Kansas has claimed their ticket but chose to remain anonymous.

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