- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2012

Aside from the bizarre drama unfolding over the ticket to a record-breaking jackpot that may or may not be hidden in a Baltimore McDonald's, lottery officials on Thursday said nothing much has changed in the week since three winners were chosen in a Mega Millions drawing worth a half-billion dollars.

“Our status is no different from where we were Saturday morning,” Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino said at a news conference at the agency’s headquarters. “Until someone walks through our doors with the winning ticket in their hands … we will continue to wait for that person to come in.”

Officials in Maryland, where one of the tickets was sold, aren’t the only ones waiting. Winning tickets to the $656 million prize were also sold in northeastern Kansas and in Red Bud, Ill. No one has presented those tickets either.

But the aftermath of the drawing has been calmer in those states.

The atmosphere in Maryland took a turn for the scandalous on Monday, when the New York Post reported that a Haitian immigrant working at a Baltimore McDonald's not only had the winning ticket but was being accused of reneging on a lottery pool with her fellow employees.

As if that weren’t enough, her story soon changed to include a secret hiding place within the fast-food restaurant, which is down the street from the lucky 7-Eleven that sold the ticket.

The woman, 37-year-old Mirlande Wilson, held a news conference at which her attorney, Edward Smith Jr., spoke for her.

“I cannot say with any certainty this ticket exists,” Mr. Smith said, compounding an already baffling situation.

The owner of the McDonald's, Birul Desai, issued a statement of his own on Thursday saying rumors of a treasure hidden in his store were “all just speculation.”

“I have absolutely no evidence to support these claims,” Mr. Desai said.

But by Thursday, attention shifted to reports circulating on the Internet of another Maryland winner.

Michael Dronet, 43, of Glen Burnie called his mother in Mississippi and told her he had won the Maryland ticket’s $218.6 million share of the prize. His mother called a local television news station to share her son’s good luck.

The Baltimore Sun later reported that Mr. Dronet acknowledged that he had been duped, that his ticket was a fake created by a friend playing a prank.

The false starts led lottery officials to attempt to clear the air.

“We’re here because we want to dispel the rumor that we think is out there about the status of the ticket, and [to make] sure it’s clear to people the ticket has not been claimed,” Mr. Martino said at an afternoon news conference.

The lottery director said officials have reviewed security footage from the 7-Eleven where the ticket was purchased. But the time stamp on the video does not match the one on the winning ticket, so it was only of limited use. He said he personally has not seen the video, nor could he comment on whether it was Ms. Wilson — or anyone else — who appeared on the footage.

Mr. Martino blamed the rumors and the confusion on the jackpot’s size — and the fact that Sunday was April Fools’ Day.

The worry now, he said, is that the real winner, thinking someone else has won, could mistakenly toss out their ticket — the original hard copy is required for someone to claim the prize — and any hope of cashing in on their luck.

“That would truly be a tragedy in this circumstance,” Mr. Martino said. “The jackpot really captured the imagination of Americans. I think it’s fair to say people who have never played the lottery before … captured a piece of the dream thinking about what they would do if they won the jackpot.”

The winner in Maryland has the option to remain anonymous, but unlike Kansas and Illinois, where the winners have a year to claim their prize, the lucky ticket holder has only 182 days — or until Sept. 28 — to cash in.

In the days leading up to the Mega Millions roll, long lines of players stretched into grocery store aisles and convenience store parking lots, waiting their turn to choose their numbers or have a computer attempt a random winning combination.

More than 100 million people woke up Saturday no more wealthy than the day before. Still, four lucky tickets sold in Maryland beat nearly all the odds to win $250,000 for matching five of the six numbers required to win the jackpot. Five locations in Virginia also had second-tier winners.

The sale also garnered a $100,000 commission for the 7-Eleven that sold the winning ticket, regardless of whether anyone comes forward to claim the prize.

Lottery officials said the Mega Millions jackpot rolled over 19 times before a winning combination was played. Tuesday’s $12 million drawing was easily dwarfed by the record jackpot, but with no winner the newest prize, now at $20 million, is at least off to a similar start.

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