Lottery refuses $118M payout because of dispute

May 31, 2012 3:29:45 PM PDT
A winning Mega Millions lottery ticket purchased by a group of suburban bakery workers turned into a mega dispute. The Illinois Lottery has denied the payout of the $118 million jackpot.

Lottery officials say 12 people tried to cash in the ticket Wednesday. They are all employees or former employees at a Chicago Heights bakery. However, five other workers say they are being cut out of their rightful share of the jackpot -- so the payout is being withheld until the matter is resolved.

Some of the winners reportedly quit their jobs at the south suburban bakery days after hitting the jackpot. But the 12 people who came forward on Wednesday excluded the five, and those former employees say they were also in the office pool- and deserve their share of the winnings.

That means no one will collect until a judge rules in the case, which could take years.

"The pattern was if they won a small amount of money it would be rolled over in the next Lotto and that's what happened this time," Michael Baird, attorney, said.

Michael Baird represents a mechanic at the bakery who says he and his co-workers won a couple of bucks a few days before the Mega Millions drawing. The mechanic and four others claim that money was used to buy the $118 million winner.

"He came in and thought that he was a winner. They said, 'Good news Nikko, we won the lottery. The bad news is you don't get anything,'" Baird said.

"We're just asking the judge and 12 people to do what's right. They were part of the pool. They lost together for all these months. Now they won together. They deserve a piece of the pie," Michael LaMonica, attorney, said.

Lottery officials say disputes over big jackpots are rare: They only happen once every few years. But when they do, it usually involves groups that don't document who's in and who's not.

"You avoid this problem by simply making copies of the tickets for the group and distribute them prior to the drawing for everyone in the group," Mike Lang, Illinois Lottery spokesman, said.

So it's back to work for the bakers while they wait to receive their millions. Morris Greenstein got $9,100 for selling the winning ticket at a 7-Eleven convenience store.

"It's not my money but I certainly would have included my co-workers and friends," Greenstein said. When asked about sharing his own bit of the lottery, Greenstein said, "I have employees, and they'll each get a little bonus."

If the case goes to court, it could take a year or two to settle. The 12 bakery workers could choose to set aside equal shares of the winnings for the five others in an escrow account. That way the winners could get to their money during litigation. Or they could just agree to split the money.

Adding the others would mean about $2 million less per winner since they want the lump sum payout.

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