- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2003

ANNAPOLIS — A 54-year-old Essex woman who worked four part-time jobs as she struggled to pay for a $62,000 house stepped forward yesterday as the winner of the $112 million Mega Millions lottery.

Bernadette “Bernie” Gietka, a lifelong Maryland resident, now says she isn’t sure she will stay in the “little house” that used to be her dream home. She’s giving up at least three of her part-time jobs — housesitting, pet sitting and elder care — to turn her attention to her dream of being a movie producer.

“The first thing will be to wait for a call from Disney,” said Miss Gietka, who has written a screenplay called “Clay’s Quest,” a futuristic sequel to “The Wizard of Oz.”

The payout was the second-largest to a single-ticket holder in U.S. lottery history.

Miss Gietka kept secret her new fortune since the June 20 drawing. She tucked the winning ticket in her address book and carried it with her everywhere as she finished working her scheduled shifts as a substitute letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service.

“It is a strange thing, going back to work,” she said. “You want to tell them but you want to keep it quiet.”

The 12 days that passed without a winner claiming the jackpot had fueled speculation and rumors about who held the ticket purchased at Geresbeck’s Bi-Rite in Middle River. Some said a man embroiled in a bitter divorce was waiting for the divorce to finalize before claiming the windfall. Others speculated that the winning ticket had been mistakenly discarded.

That talk ended yesterday when Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. introduced Miss Gietka at a State House news conference. Accompanied by Maryland State Lottery Director Buddy Roogow, the Republican governor handed Miss Gietka a jumbo-size ceremonial check for $112 million.

“This is a fun day and it is a fun part of my job,” said Mr. Ehrlich. “But as fun as it is for me, it is a better day for Bernadette Gietka.”

Miss Gietka then handed Mr. Ehrlich a jumbo check for $8.46 million in state income tax.

When Mr. Ehrlich asked her if she minded helping out the state’s cash-strapped general fund, Miss Gietka said no.

“You’re a good citizen,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

Also collecting a check at the news conference was Geresbeck’s owner, Joanne Grahm, who got $25,000 for selling the winning ticket. She was flanked by Geresbeck’s store manager Ken Krawczyk and 18-year-old Alisha Sanders who punched up the ticket for Miss Gietka.

Miss Gietka collected about $68 million after state and federal taxes.

She doesn’t yet know what she will do with the money, though she’s been eyeing a car.

“We’ve been sitting in the new Corvette anniversary edition,” she told a reporter at the news conference. “You want one. I can see it in your eyes.”

With $66 million, Miss Gietka could buy 1,172 Corvettes or 323 Bentley Arnages or 194 Mercedes Maybachs, chauffeurs not included with the latter. Or she could buy every man, woman and child in the United States a pack of Juicy Fruit gum.

Miss Gietka, a regular customer at Geresbeck’s, bought four tickets for the Mega Millions game and let the computer randomly select her numbers. She decided to try her lottery luck, she said, after her mother bought five tickets instead of the 10 tickets she planned on.

Then, Miss Gietka almost threw away the winning ticket when she saw the numbers: 1, 2, 3, 12, 37 and the gold Mega Ball number, 35.

“I saw one, two, three and I thought I should throw it right in the can,” she said.

Miss Gietka missed the June 20 drawing and didn’t realize her good fortune until late the next day. After learning the winning ticket had the numbers 1, 2 and 3 and that it was purchased at Geresbeck’s, she spent a harrowing evening out at dinner and a movie with friends while she wondered if she had hit the jackpot.

So, how does it feel to turn a $1 investment into a multimillion-dollar windfall?

“Your stomach kind of turns right over,” Miss Gietka said.

The next big lottery jackpot could be won in Wednesday’s multistate Powerball drawing, which is up to an estimated $165 million. That’s currently the largest lottery jackpot in the world. Washington-area residents can buy tickets for the drawing at stores in the District.

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