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Baltimore woman's silence fuels doubts about lottery claim

By Alice Popovici

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A Baltimore woman who says she holds one of three winning tickets in the record $656 million lottery held her own news conference on Wednesday but declined to answer questions or produce any proof of the winning ticket -- fueling doubts about her bizarre story.

Mirlande Wilson, 37, arrived at her lawyer's office nearly an hour late dressed in a stretchy pink shirt, Capri pants and a baseball cap emblazoned with a cartoon pig and the words "Sweet Swine."

Wilson sat silently - sometimes fiddling with her cell phone - while her lawyer pleaded with the media to let his client return to a "normal life" and deflected questions surrounding her bizarre story about winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

Wilson has yet to produce the ticket, and even her attorney said he has no visible proof of the ticket.

Lottery officials have said three winning tickets were sold in Illinois, Kansas and Maryland but no one has produced a winning ticket yet.

"I have not seen it," said her lawyer, Edward Smith, Jr. "In fact, I don't think I want to see it until the lottery people have it in their hot little hands."

He said Wilson showed up late because she had gone to her physician due to "all of the pressure that she's experienced over the last couple of days."

He would not answer questions about her background, but said she is originally from a village in Haiti.

Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino announced plans to hold his own press conference on Thursday to discuss the winning ticket, sold last Friday at a 7-Eleven store in Baltimore County. A statement said Martino would address the "status of the winning ticket" as well as the claiming process.

He will undoubtedly be asked about Wilson, who first came to the public's notice this week in a New York Post story.

Wilson told the newspaper that she was part of a pool with her co-workers at a McDonald's just down the road from the 7-Eleven, but that the winning ticket was bought separately and she would not share the prize.

Her story, while raising a number of questions, has drawn a swarm of media to her neighborhood and her workplace, where she may (or may not) have hidden the ticket.

Birul Desai, who owns the McDonald's franchise where she worked, got into the act on Wednesday and issued his own statement about the whereabouts of the winning ticket.

"Recent media reports are now claiming that a manager at my McDonald's restaurant hid the alleged winning ticket somewhere on restaurant property," he said. "I have absolutely no evidence to support these claims."

Should the winning ticket be found among the Happy Meals -- or anywhere else -- its owner would be entitled to a third of the record-setting jackpot. Depending on which payout option they choose, winners can take a one-time payment of about $105.1 million, or payments of about $5.6 million a year spread out over 26 years.

(Writing by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Greg McCune and Lisa Shumaker)

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