3 Maryland school workers split Mega Millions win

April 10, 2012 - 5:58 PM
CORRECTION Mega Millions

CORRECTS DATE PHOTO WAS MADE TO MONDAY, APRIL 9, NOT TUESDAY, APRIL 10 - In this photo provided by the Maryland State Lottery Agency, a lottery official, left, and the three anonymous winners of the Maryland portion of the Mega Millions lottery pose for a photo in Baltimore, Monday, April 9, 2012. Maryland Lottery officials say three public school employees are sharing the spoils of the record Mega Millions jackpot. The winning Maryland ticket is one of three nationally that split the $656 million jackpot. (AP Photo/Maryland State Lottery Agency)

BALTIMORE (AP) — Some lottery players might fantasize about resigning from the rat race in a spectacular way if they win. An anonymous trio of Maryland educators who will split a share of the record $656 million Mega Millions jackpot say they're staying on the job for the children.

Maryland lottery officials said Tuesday that the state's winning ticket was held by two women and a man calling themselves "The Three Amigos." They are a special education teacher, an elementary school teacher and a school administrator who all worked multiple jobs to make ends meet.

"If it can't be you, these people are precisely the people you would want to see win," Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino said.

Each will collect about $35 million after taxes. Martino said they planned to buy new homes, travel to Europe and help their own children pay for college, but they couldn't stand to leave their schools.

"They were so clearly committed to their kids," he said of the teachers. "They both said, 'Yes, I can't give up my kids.'"

The three claimed their prize Monday with a financial advisor and chose to remain anonymous, which is allowed under Maryland law.

The winning Maryland ticket is one of three nationally that split the biggest jackpot in Mega Millions history on March 30. The others were picked in Kansas and Illinois. Kansas' winner claimed a share of the jackpot Friday, but also decided to remain anonymous.

Nobody has come forward in Illinois, where winners have one year to claim a jackpot, but rules aimed at showing transparency can compel them to appear for a news conference and related promotions. In one case, big jackpot winners created a limited liability corporation to safeguard their identity. Illinois Lottery Superintendent Michael Jones said officials would work with the state's winner to conceal their identity "if there are good and rational reasons."

The Maryland trio plans to invest their winnings, but they have a few dreams, too: The man told lottery officials that he planned to help his children with college expenses, pay off his house and buy his sister a house. One woman planned to go backpacking through Europe with her brother and the other plans to tour Italy's wine country.

"That's not the kind of ostentatious brandishing of this money that will bring them a lot of attention," Martino said.

The discovery of the Maryland winners comes after a week of speculation and intense media coverage about a Baltimore woman, Mirlande Wilson, who claimed to hold the winning ticket and then said she had lost it.

The lottery confirmed that Wilson did not win. She and her attorney did not return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Martino said it wasn't clear what impact the news frenzy had on the winners' decisions to remain anonymous, but they were watching and joking with each other, knowing they held the real winner.

"They had been privately laughing among themselves, texting back and forth that other people were claiming to have the ticket, when they knew where the ticket was," Martino said.

They bought 60 tickets from three locations in their pool. The winner came from a 7-Eleven store in Milford Mill outside Baltimore.

Each member of the trio chose a lump sum payment of $35 million after taxes, which they will receive within the next 10 business days. The state's general fund will get $13.4 million in additional income taxes.

One winner, a woman in her 20s, spread the tickets out on her floor to check them immediately after the drawing on March 30. When she realized one was a winner, she called her friends, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s.

The second woman told lottery officials she had forgotten about the drawing and went to sleep, but was awakened by her phone ringing and ringing. She didn't believe the other winners at first, thinking it was an early April Fool's joke, but they told her to get dressed because they were on their way over, Martino said. They signed copies of the winning ticket and one woman put the winning ticket in a safe at her mother's home. The trio also contacted a financial adviser, who got in touch with lottery officials.

When they went to lottery headquarters on Monday — the last day of spring break for many Maryland schools — one woman carried the winning ticket in an envelope in her purse and the other 59 in a separate envelope, Martino said. Officials checked those, but they won just one more dollar.

Martino described the winners as cheerful and humble and a little overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. One told officials that she had recently made a quiet prayer for help paying the bills.

"I think every bill that they have will be taken care of," he said.

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Associated Press reporter Jim Suhr contributed to this report from St. Louis.