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Mega Millions mess: Maryland woman in office pool draws suspicion

LOS ANGELES _ A Maryland McDonald's worker is in the middle of a Mega Millions meltdown as co-workers wonder whether she ripped them off _ or whether she even won at all.

The case of Mirlande Wilson, 37, of Westport, Md., is a curious one, as well as a cautionary one for folks who like to toss a few bucks into the lottery pool at work.

As everyone in the U.S. now knows _ because of the non-stop media coverage _ three winning tickets split the record $656-million jackpot in Friday's Mega Millions drawing. The three winning tickets were purchased in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland.

Many Americans pooled their money at work, hoping to win a piece of the jackpot and the glorious opportunity to quit, en masse.

Wilson was the person at her workplace who collected the cash for the lottery pool. And the day after the drawing, a co-worker said, Wilson called work to gloat "I won! I won!"

Co-workers, though, were immediately suspicious. Wilson told the New York Post (which apparently tracked her down to what it described as her "squalid" Maryland home) that she won using a ticket she had bought for herself _ not the tickets she had bought on behalf of her co-workers.

"I was in the group, but this was separate. The winning ticket was a separate ticket," she told the newspaper.

She later said she's not even sure she's really a mega-millionaire: "I don't know if I won. Some of the numbers were familiar. I recognized some of (them)," she told the Post.

The details are similar to those in the case of a New Jersey construction worker who last month was found to have ripped off his colleagues in an office pool. In that case, the man's co-workers had to rely on witnesses to prove that Americo Lopes had collected cash from his co-workers for the lottery.

It appears that the lottery pool at the Maryland McDonald's, however, had taken some steps to protect participants from controversy. Workers kept a stack of the lottery tickets purchased with the pool money in an office safe, along with a list of all the participants.

But, the Post says, the McDonald's owner reportedly gave Wilson an additional $5 to buy more tickets for the pool on her way home. (Nice boss, eh?) Wilson took those tickets home with her, the newspaper reported, leading to co-workers' fears that they may have to watch millions of dollars slip through their fingers.

This is why experts suggest that office pool tickets should be bought well in advance of the drawing, so that there's time to make copies of the tickets and share those copies with all the players. That extra step protects everyone from controversy and accusations, according to the New Jersey State Lottery.