For Dundalk man, that's the ticket

The Baltimore Sun

A Wicca devotee and small businessman from Dundalk came forward yesterday with a photocopy of a lottery ticket showing the winning numbers to Friday's Mega Millions drawing and claimed a share of the estimated $330 million jackpot, though lottery officials have yet to verify his assertion.

"I kind of screamed, and then I kind of cried," said Elwood "Bunky" Bartlett, 40, retelling the story of how he and his wife, Denise, greeted the news yesterday morning.

Maryland State Lottery officials said they had yet to see the ticket and confirm it was a winner, but planned to meet with Bartlett, a bookkeeping service operator and father of two, on Tuesday.

"Until a lottery official can confirm its legitimacy, we can't confirm the validity of this claim," said Buddy Roogow, director of the Maryland State Lottery, who confirmed that one of the four matching tickets was bought at a Parkville liquor store. "There's no reason to believe that this isn't legitimate, but we can't confirm it."

Employees at Walther Liquors learned yesterday that they sold one of four winning Mega Millions tickets, and the only one in Maryland. Bartlett showed up unannounced at 4:30 p.m., waving a photocopy of what he said was the matching ticket that his wife purchased Friday afternoon. He said she preferred to stay out of the spotlight.

Bartlett gathered just a stone's throw from the Walther Boulevard store to celebrate with friends and fellow pagans at Mystickal Voyage, a New Age gift shop he considers his spiritual home and that he said he plans to help improve with his winnings.

As an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church, Bartlett recalled feeling compelled to do more teaching in the New Age store last month, but felt torn because he couldn't pull away from his job. He told the "powers that be" that if he won the lottery, he would focus on teaching completely.

"And a month later, here I am," he said. "I thank the gods for this gift. ... I don't know which one granted me this wish, but whichever one did, thanks!"

Wiccans worship multiple gods and their faith is often described as a nature-based practice of benign witchcraft.

On his MySpace page, which is decorated with images of several dragons and details the roots of his beliefs -- in American Indian traditions, he says -- he identifies himself as "a Reiki master of the Usui Reiki and Dragon Reiki systems." Bartlett also said he's taught more than 200 students in Wicca, and is an "Intuitive Psychic" and a "Demonologist/Exorcist."

In many ways, Bartlett spent the day exactly as many dream they would, were they to win the lottery. He said he bought a souped-up sport utility vehicle; told his mother, a cleaning-service owner, she wouldn't have to scrub toilets anymore; planned a vacation; and ruminated over how to invest and spend his potential new fortune.

Just moments after his initial euphoria wore off, he said, he quickly considered whether or not to take the money as a lump sum -- about $49 million -- or to take an annuity, which would pay him $3.7 million a year until 2032. He said he believes he can make more investing the lump sum, and he has calculated how much he would get after taxes ($30 million, he says).

Worried that his 18-year-old daughter was driving a "death trap," Bartlett said he called her and told her to come and get his car. He then persuaded a Ford dealer to let him drive off with a new Explorer without paying a dime, he said.

He said he simply showed the actual winning ticket and drove away with his new SUV, which he said has a DVD player, a navigation system and leather seats. He'll pay for it later, he said.

Roogow said lottery officials advise winners to get the ticket to them as soon as possible, because if it gets lost or damaged beyond recognition before they can turn it in, it's no good. One $60 million ticket winner, he recalled, kept it in his pocket for a month.

Bartlett said he plans to pay off all the debts of his parents and in-laws, and hopes to invest in Mystickal Voyage, building up a holistic health and yoga center and eventually turning it into a franchise.

The ticket will stay in an undisclosed location until Tuesday, Bartlett said, and he will temporarily be living away from his home. He and his wife might even visit Stonehenge, a prehistoric monument in Great Britain, which they consider "a very spiritual place."

Bartlett is also holding out hope that winning won't spin his life out of control. A discussion he had planned to host this morning at Mystickal Voyage would go on as planned, and he was prepared for it to get "very interesting."

Earlier yesterday, the mood was festive at Walther Liquors, hours after it was announced that the store had sold one of the winning Mega Millions tickets at about 5:10 p.m. Friday.

No other winners had come forward as of early Saturday evening. Matching tickets were also sold in Virginia, New Jersey and Texas.

The owners of Walther Liquors, Christina and John Ebmeier, will receive a $25,000 check for selling the ticket with the winning numbers drawn Friday night. That money will fund a trip to Italy and bonuses for the store's seven employees, Christina Ebmeier said.

"It's very exciting, very overwhelming," she said.

The Mega Millions results coincided with the liquor store's grand reopening party yesterday featuring free wine, spirits and beer tastings. Customers stopped by to congratulate the Ebmeiers, who just completed an expansion on the store they have owned for two years.

Before Bartlett came forward, Ebmeier said he and his wife watched the store's surveillance camera to narrow the possible winners down to three people.

The odds of picking the winning numbers -- 8, 18, 22, 40 and 44, and a Mega Ball number of 11 -- were 1 in 176 million. Mega Millions tickets are sold in Maryland and 11 other states.

In addition to the jackpot winners, 36 players --none in Maryland -- matched all five numbers except for the Mega Ball. Those second-prize winners will be awarded $250,000 each. Another 215 third-place players, including nine in Maryland, will receive $10,000 each for matching four numbers plus the Mega Ball number, lottery officials said.

In July 2003, Bernadette "Bernie" Gietka, a letter carrier from Dundalk, publicly claimed the $183 million Mega Millions prize after waiting a week to seek financial advice. After collecting her $112.8 million lump payment, Gietka continued to work for the U.S. Postal Service for two years, Roogow said.

On his MySpace page, Bartlett says he plans to run for president someday. He said yesterday that he had put off plans to run, although he remained open to the idea "if people approach me."

"I don't know if America is ready for a witch in the White House," said Lori Perdue, who owns Mystickal Voyage with her husband.

But as the store was about to close, Bartlett seemed to have made up his mind.

"I'm happy doing what I do," he said. "I'm going to teach."

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