10:55 AM CDT, April 3, 2012
A woman who lives in Baltimore's Westport neighborhood believes she is one of three winners of the world-record Mega Millions jackpot.
Merlande Wilson is an immigrant from Haiti, and a mother of seven children. She says she and her co-workers went in on a group of tickets, which she bought.
But she says the winning ticket was purchased specifically for her, separately, by another co-worker.
"I hope my ticket is right and I get the money," she said in an interview Monday night. "I will help people I'm not going to keep it to myself I'm going to share no matter what. It's a lot of money," she said.
That tickets would be worth $218.6 million, or a lump sum payment of about $105-million.
But there is controversy. Wilson works at the McDonald's on Liberty Road, and co-workers say she bought tickets for several of them.
"I didn't even check the ticket to make sure. I don't know why all this happened. I don't know who called the media. I don't know what's going on. I'm just in shock myself," she said.
She claims another co-worker went out to buy tickets again -- she gave him a dollar, and that dollar bought the ticket that she believes is the winner.
"I said buy only one dollar. And he bought one for five dollars, and one dollar. I said the dollar is for me," she said.
McDonald's Franchisee Birul Desai has urged the media to not jump to conclusions about the winning ticket until it is presented and verified.
"The media is reporting that a number of individuals associated with my restaurant allegedly contributed to a lottery pool for Friday's Mega Millions jackpot, and that a manager at my McDonald's restaurant could be a potential winner. This information has not been confirmed and is purely speculation at this time, said Desai.
How to handle a lottery win
Estate planning attorney Kevin Bress, of the Towson law firm Hodes, Pessin and Katz, says a dispute like that usually winds up being resolved in court. He says it will come down to whether a judge or jury believes the person holding the ticket, or the other people who say they should have a piece of it.
"What you find is that somebody thinks they're right. And they're just not going to let go of that prize," Bress said.
Bress helps high-dollar clients protect their money -- including one former jackpot winner in Maryland. He says if Merlande Wilson does have the winning ticket, her first call should have been to an attorney.
That would have helped her stay anonymous, a job that might be impossible now.
"What people don't realize is attorneys, attorney client-privilege, confidentiality all of that we're bound by ethics not to disclose this information," he said.
Then the attorney can set up a financial advisor to make sure the winner doesn't wind up wasting all that money.
"People don't realize the on-going expense of many decisions that they make. Before you start spending it, let's first protect It," he said.
As for Merlande Wilson, seeing an attorney will be her next step after a whirlwind day. "It's my ticket. It's just my ticket," she said.
All lottery officials have said so far is that no winner has come forward to them.
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