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WINNING lottery ticket arrives in mail; man said he fished it out of a drawer


NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A 40-year-old computer technician came forward Friday to claim a $46 million lottery payout, saying he fished the nearly year-old ticket out of a drawer after hearing news reports that it was about to expire.

Melvin B. Milligan of Passaic claimed the jackpot the day after astonished lottery officials announced that the winner had entrusted his lucky ticket to the U.S. Postal Service.

``I was in shock for a while, and just drove around,'' a beaming Milligan said at a news conference with his 34-year-old wife, Kim, and acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco. ``There was an envelope attached to the claim form so I just mailed it in. Somehow, I knew the lottery would get it, and I knew they'd call.''

Milligan, who described himself as an ``occasional lottery player,'' said his first priorities were to take care of his family, look for a home and ``take a cruise somewhere.''

Milligan said he knew he had some old lottery tickets in a junk drawer and dug them out last week after seeing news reports about the unclaimed jackpot.

On June 7, two days before the winning ticket was to expire, Milligan brought it and his other tickets to a convenience store in Clifton, where it was validated and he got the claim form.

The winning ticket arrived in the agency's mail Tuesday.

``It wasn't even (sent via) certified or insured mail,'' Lottery spokeswoman Annette Jenkins said. ``It's amazing.''

The ticket for the multistate lottery was sold at the Krauszer's convenience store in Montvale on June 9, 2000 _ the day of the drawing. The winning numbers were 6, 7, 25, 34 and 45, and the Big Money Ball number 2.

The winner called the store Friday morning to thank owner Hemang Patel, said the store owner's sister, Dipita Patel.

``He called here and said, `Thank you for the ticket,''' she said. ``He said, `You'll see me on TV at about noon.'''

Lottery officials said Milligan still has the option to take a lump sum payoff option worth $23.7 million or accept an annuity worth $46 million. Earlier, they had said the then-unknown buyer had opted for the lump sum.

If the prize had not been claimed, the money would have gone to New Jersey and the other six states that participate in the game: Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia and Georgia.

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