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Store tried to cheat widow out of $21 million jackpot

A widow says she harbors no ill will toward a store owner who tried unsuccessfully to keep her $21 million lottery ticket, but she said that was the last time she'll call in her daily bet by phone.

"I'll probably play it 30 days in advance now," Paraskeve Kantges, 72, said after the competing claim was rejected Wednesday.State Treasurer Joe Malone said the decision to award the prize to Kantges will still face a formal hearing, meaning she'll have to wait to collect any money.

Kantges says she phoned in her lucky numbers to a nearby store because a snowstorm prevented her from going out.

The flap arose when the numbers 4-6-10-16-19-25 were drawn in the Mass Millions lottery Feb. 5.

Kantges had been playing the number for years and said it signifies her birth at 4 a.m., on the sixth day of the week, on Oct. 16, 1925.

She says she called in the number the day of the drawing to Coolidge Provisions, a store where she buys her tickets. Massachusetts allows phone-in bets.

When she hit, Kantges went to the corner store to pick up the winner and the other $1 tickets she phoned in. Owner Nick Havan gave her receipts of the 95 tickets she bought that week, but the winning ticket was missing, she said.

Lottery officials said their records show that Kantges has been playing the winning combination for years. In the past - but not this year - she bought a season ticket with those numbers that automatically entered her in each week's drawing, they said.

Havan initially told state lottery officials that someone else bought the winner, then acknowledged he took the telephone bets from Kantges.

But he said when Kantges called back to confirm the transaction, she said she did not want to play her birthday number because she had played it earlier that day.

Since the bet could not be reversed, Havan said he absorbed the loss and paid for the ticket himself.

Malone dismissed Havan's claim on Wednesday, saying he was "lying shamelessly and trying to manipulate the system to his benefit."

But the district attorney called the ticket mix-up a "mess."

"It was my clear understanding that there was going to be - before a decision was made - a complete, thorough and professional investigation," Middlesex District Attorney Tom Reilly said.

Lottery officials have suspended Havan's license to sell lottery tickets. They also froze payment on the $25,000 commission check the store would have gotten for selling the winning ticket.