BALTIMORE -- A Baltimore woman is claiming one-third of the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot, but colleagues at the McDonald's restaurant where she works say Mirlande Wilson bought the tickets for a workplace pool - and that they're winners too.
All of which may be irrelevant if Wilson doesn't produce the winning ticket.
Maryland Lottery officials say someone purchased a winning ticket Friday night at a Baltimore County 7-Eleven store, but as of midafternoon Monday, no one had come forward. Lottery director Stephen Martino said he hadn't heard from Wilson or her representative, and that no one had showed up at his Baltimore offices. Although he didn't call Wilson's story a fabrication, he said, "We don't have any reason to believe right now that it's true."
He added, "I will say that I tend to be really skeptical of all these claims." He said he had heard at least half a dozen names of people who claim to have won.
Wilson told the New York Post she planned to claim her $105 million share Monday but declined to show the ticket to a reporter. She was unavailable for comment Monday - a Baltimore phone listing for her was non-working.
Co-workers told the Post they pooled their cash to buy several tickets and that Wilson is stiffing them.
Maryland Lottery spokeswoman Carole Everett said Monday, "I never expected, based on that story, that this is the actual winner. We really won't believe anybody till they walk in with a ticket and the ticket is valid - and they have identification."
Everett says false claims are part of the process, especially when a jackpot reaches stratospheric heights. "Lots of people claim that they won," she said. "They want a piece of the excitement."
In New Jersey in 2010, a group of asphalt workers who regularly played Mega Millions sued a co-worker who disappeared after a November 2009 drawing. The co-worker said he needed foot surgery, but crewmembers found his name on a list of Mega Millions winners: He had claimed $38.5 million. A jury last month ordered him to share the jackpot.
Such cases were enough to persuade Karen Pugh, principal of Bandini Elementary School in Commerce, Calif., east of Los Angeles, to draw up an agreement for her group of 11 regular lottery players. "My secretary and I just had a feeling that we needed to be wise in this, because we had heard the stories of office pools gone bad," Pugh said.
By January 2010, they had been playing the lottery together for a year and a half and said they needed to bring some precision to the process. The agreement covered how much each member put in and what would happen if a member chose not to play one week (no prize). Pugh's secretary began photocopying tickets and handing out copies.
"She just kept saying, 'Well, when we win, we need to be very clear,' " Pugh said.
Three weeks later, they won $12 million.
Last July, Pugh retired after 30 years in the school district. In January, 16 Bandini employees, including nine of her former group, won an additional $250,000. She said, "I believe they still have something in writing."