M O N T V A L E, N.J., June 15, 2001 -- A New Jersey computer technician claimed his $46 million lottery jackpot today, a week after he dropped the winning ticket in a mailbox, just days before the contest expired.
Melvin Milligan is the first person in the history of the state's lottery to use regular U.S. mail to claim the top prize, lottery officials said. He did not use certified or insured mail.
"I have faith in the postal service," Milligan said simply, appearing happy and relaxed at a news conference today where he received the winning check.
Milligan almost let the Big Game jackpot slip away. If the jackpot hadn't been postmarked by last Saturday, the winnings would have been divided among the seven Big Game lottery states: New Jersey, Georgia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Illinois, and Maryland.
The furor over the missing ticket had sent Big Game players on a hopeful hunt through their sofa cushions, desk drawers, and back seats.
The 40-year-old computer technician bought the ticket on June 9, 2000, but promptly forgot all about it, he said.
It was only last Thursday, when he saw media reports about the mystery, that he thought to search for his ticket. Ten minutes later, he found it in a junk drawer in his home in Passaic, N.J.
‘I Just Mailed It In’
Milligan kept it in his pocket as he went to work, and it was not until 7 p.m. that he took it to a lottery agent to see if it was a winner.
"The guy looked at me and said, 'You're the one,'" Milligan said. They filled out his lottery paperwork and Milligan dropped the forms and the $46 million slip of paper in a regular mailbox and went home, he said.
"There was an envelope attached to the claim form so I just mailed it in," he explained.
Milligan's wife, Kim, joked that if the post office had lost the ticket, "He would have been dead."
Milligan chose to receive the prize as a $24 million lump sum instead of $46 million spread out over 20 years.
At Krauzer's, the convenience store in Montvale, N.J., where the winning ticket was sold, customers were delighted the mystery jackpot had been claimed.
"Really, I'm glad somebody got it," said one customer. But there was universal amazement that the ticket was sent in via regular mail, and only two days before the jackpot would have expired.
The winning numbers on the June 9, 2000 ticket were 6, 7, 25, 34 and 45, and the Big Money Ball number was 2.
ABCNEWS' Tim Scheld in Montvale, N.J., contributed to this report.