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Mega Millions winner emerges...or does she?

Wednesday, January 7, 2004

CLEVELAND -- Two women -- one with a ticket, one tearfully without -- laid claim to a $162 million lottery jackpot Tuesday, triggering a legal dispute that could come down to "finder's keepers" or fraud.

Elecia Battle went to police Monday with the teary story of a lottery ticket lost outside a convenience store, and a small crowd with flashlights soon gathered in the snowy parking lot in search of the precious paper scrap.

Tuesday morning, Rebecca Jemison,34, said Battle's claim prompted her to quit stalling, submit her ticket and collect the prize from the Dec. 30 drawing.

Police, who originally said Battle, 40, had told a credible story about losing the winning ticket, are now investigating whether she lied in a police report, a misdemeanor punishable by 30 days to six months in jail.

Jemison turned in the ticket for the 11-state Mega Millions jackpot at Ohio Lottery headquarters. The lottery validated it Tuesday as the sole winning ticket for the drawing and Ohio Lottery director Dennis Kennedy said the lottery is confident Jemison bought the ticket, not found it.

Battle immediately filed suit Tuesday seeking to halt any payout to the winner. The lottery commission had no immediate comment on the lawsuit, said spokeswoman Mardele Cohen. Jemison, who said she had waited to come forward because she wanted to speak with a lawyer and accountant, could not be reached for comment after the suit was filed.

Jemison, who handles telephone and doctor paging duties at a suburban hospital, said she is looking forward to buying a new home, taking a vacation and sharing her prize with her family. She and her husband, Sam, have a 12-year-old daughter.

She took her winnings in an immediate lump sum of $94 million, before taxes. After taxes, it will be worth an estimated $67.2 million.

South Euclid, meanwhile, is expecting its own windfall to the tune of about $1.4 million in taxes from the prize. The Cleveland suburb had been expecting a $1 million deficit for 2004, and Mayor Georgine Welo laid off 11 employees last week.

Welo said Tuesday the unexpected income tax will make life easier in South Euclid, and that she likely would soon rehire two of the laid-off workers.

Earlier Tuesday, Starke, unaware that the lottery was validating Jemison's claim, said he intended to make a case that the winning ticket was Battle's lost property.

"If there is one type of property that is not presumed to be abandoned, it's money," he said. "Anyone who finds it is not the owner."

The Ohio Lottery says the ticket is a bearer note, which means whoever turns in a valid ticket is legally entitled to the winnings.

After learning that Jemison turned in the winning ticket, South Euclid police Lt. Kevin Nietert said he had not been able to reach Battle and her attorney by phone. "From a police department point of view, it obviously draws into question the integrity of Elecia Battle's report."

The winning ticket was sold at Quick Shop Food Mart in South Euclid, about 15 miles east of Cleveland.

Battle filed a police report saying she dropped her purse as she left the store after buying the ticket. She said she realized after the drawing last Tuesday that the ticket was missing and told police that the numbers she picked represented family birthdays and ages.


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