Another rumor that the Mega Millions winner from Maryland had been identified — this time as a Glen Burnie man named Michael Dronet — began swirling around the Internet on Tuesday after his mother told a media outlet in Mississippi her son had won.
But by Wednesday, Dronet said he was not one of the winners of Friday's $656 million jackpot — and his mother, Linda Bobo, didn't know what to make of his story.
"I don't have any idea," she said when reached by phone, sounding upset.
Dronet, 43, a contractor who was sentenced to a year in prison in 2006 for falsifying documents in a real estate scheme, said he hadn't actually won, and called the whole episode a "nightmare" and a "curse."
It started when a friend created a fake ticket and tricked him into thinking it was real, he said.
"It was a joke, and my mom called the news people up before I knew it was a joke," Dronet said.
According to Bobo, her son had told her earlier this week that he'd won the money, and she had told WAPT News in Mississippi.
That news organization then ran a report published online Tuesday with pictures of the mother and son, that quoted the pair about their plans for the money and included a story about how Dronet had gotten the winning numbers from a fortune cookie.
Other news media picked up the story and repeated it.
"I could almost cry because I'm so happy for him," Bobo apparently told WAPT.
On Wednesday, however, Bobo cried over the phone when asked about her son's story, which she said he changed when she called him on speakerphone from Mississippi, for a story by another local news outlet.
Instead of the fortune cookie tale, Dronet told a different one, "that a friend played a joke on him," Bobo said.
Bobo didn't know whether Dronet was tricked by friends, or had won and had changed his story to get rid of media attention, she said.
Either way, she was not amused.
"The way he did it made a fool out of me," she said. "And it hurts."
Dronet said Wednesday night that he'd been made a fool of, too.
He had fallen hard for the trick, in part, he said, because he had purchased 23 lottery tickets from the Milford Mill 7-Eleven store where the winning ticket was sold.
"I was in that store for sure, around the same time," he said. "That's why I believed it."
Dronet said he told his two kids he was taking them to Florida on vacation and told his family he was going to move to Florida.
Then, he says, he found out the whole thing was a scam, and it turned into a "nightmare."
"There's nothing I can get out of this but embarrassment," says Dronet, calling it the last thing he needs.
"I'm trying to get away from my past," he said.
Dronet has been in and out of the civil and criminal court systems for years.
He was sentenced to a year and a day in prison in 2006 for his involvement in a house-flipping scheme in which he found buyers for homes and submitted falsified documents on their behalf to secure mortgages they otherwise would not have qualified for, according to a Baltimore Sun story from the time.
A contractor by trade who repairs roofs, Dronet's company, Roof Repair Experts Inc., has a poor reputation among customers at the Better Business Bureau. He has had a string of civil suits filed against him in relation to his roofing work.
He is currently on probation for acting as a contractor without a license.
Now he's getting attention again, he said, and he doesn't like it.
He called his mother "a great person" who is just "very enthusiastic," but he's angry with his buddy, who he called a practical joker who didn't think the joke through.
"There's nothing I want out of this," he said of the joke and the media spotlight. "So far it's been nothing but pure hell."
Late Wednesday night, after The Sun asked to speak with the friend, Dronet handed the phone to another man. He claimed to have created the ticket as a joke but wouldn't provide his name.