Mirlande Wilson sat back Wednesday and observed the worldwide media spectacle she caused when she claimed she bought one of the winning $656 million Mega Millions tickets at a Baltimore County convenience store.
But after a 23-minute news conference called by her attorney, people were left with just as many questions about the McDonald's manager and 37-year-old mother of seven — including whether she really does have the ticket.
Wilson, dressed in a pink T-shirt and baseball cap with a cartoon pig and the words "Sweet Swine," wouldn't so much as nod to acknowledge whether she is the winner. She slumped in her chair, stooped to tie her sneaker and whispered into her cellphone during the news conference, to which she arrived more than 30 minutes late.
She didn't produce the ticket, and her attorney said he hasn't seen it either.
"I cannot say with any certainty that this ticket exists," said the attorney, Edward Smith Jr.
But Wilson, a native of Haiti who was the subject of a joke on a late-night TV monologue and made headlines as far away as Australia, Vancouver and Scotland this week, did have one message to the media via Smith: "Go home."
"She doesn't want 15 minutes of fame," he said. "She wants, I think, a lifetime of being anonymous."
Reporters have been camped outside Wilson's Westport home as the lottery mystery has enthralled the masses since Friday night's drawing. Wilson told The New York Post in an article published Monday that she and her co-workers had purchased a group of tickets, but that she had used her own money to buy the winning one.
Three winning tickets were purchased in Maryland, Kansas and Illinois. So far, no one has produced a winning ticket.
Smith said he hadn't asked Wilson if she has the ticket in her possession.
She told The New York Post in an article published Wednesday that she hid it at the McDonald's on Liberty Road, where she worked. That's near the Milford Mill 7-Eleven where lottery officials say someone bought the winning ticket about three hours before sales stopped Friday.
"I'm waiting for things to calm down so I can go back to McDonald's and get it," Wilson said in the article. "The people [at McDonald's] are too excited. I want their heads to cool down before I go back."
Smith said Wilson is suffering from high blood pressure as a result of the red-hot media spotlight. She was late to the news conference, he said, because she stopped at her doctor's office to pick up medication as a result of the attention. Wilson wore a white bracelet on her right wrist, typical of the plastic bands given out at emergency rooms.
Smith, who has handled some high-profile criminal cases, such as defending a city police officer who was sent to prison for 315 years for dealing drugs, said his job is to protect his client and serve as her advocate.
"I represent people, whether they are right or wrong, and I protect their legal rights," he said.
Smith didn't answer many questions but spoke about the meaning and real value of money in one's life.
Meanwhile, at the McDonald's, two security guards and a public relations spokeswoman escorted media representatives off the property, and the local owner warned curiosity-seekers not to jump to conclusions.
"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," owner Birul Desai said in an emailed statement. "This information has not been confirmed and is purely speculation at this time."
Referring to Wilson's statement that she hid the winning ticket in the fast-food restaurant, Desai said, "I have absolutely no evidence to support these claims."
Smith wouldn't say whether Wilson was still employed at the local McDonald's.
Maryland lottery officials, who scheduled a news conference for Thursday to discuss the jackpot's impact on the state and how the claim process works, have heard a number of rumors about potential winners.
It is not unusual for uncertainty to surround people who claim to have won the lottery. In 2007, a Woodbine, N.J., store sold a winning $390 million Mega Millions ticket, which was record-breaking at that time.
Word got out that a cook at a local tavern had told acquaintances, including his boss, that he was the new multi-millionaire. A relative of the cook later said that he had mistaken a printout containing the winning numbers for his ticket.
This week, Michael Dronet, 43, of Glen Burnie, had reported to media outlets that he was the latest Mega Millions winner before abruptly changing his tune, saying a friend had tricked him by creating a fake ticket. Dronet, who has a long court record and was sentenced to a year in jail in 2006 for a real estate scheme in which he falsified mortgage documents, said he never wanted the attention, but had believed he had won.
At the news conference, Smith said he wouldn't push Wilson to take the ticket to the Maryland Lottery to cash in her prize. The winner has up to 182 days, or about six months, to claim the money, lottery officials have said.
Smith said Wilson would come forward "at some juncture" to claim the prize.
But, for now, Wilson is keeping people guessing. As she left the attorney's office, she ignored another round of media questions, slipping into the passenger seat of a beat-up gray Honda Accord with no hubcaps. It soon sped away.
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