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The BBC's Rob Watson
"Despite just two days to go until the deadline, he sent the ticket by regular mail"
 real 28k

Friday, 15 June, 2001, 19:57 GMT 20:57 UK
Last-minute lottery winner bags $23m
Melvin Milligan
Mr Milligan plans to take a cruise
A 40-year-old man in America has come forward to claim a multi-million-dollar lottery payout that had nearly expired.

Computer technician Melvin B Milligan said he had fished the ticket - worth $23.7m (16.8m) - out of a drawer after hearing news reports about the jackpot.

And later the laid-back winner calmly put the lucky ticket in the post - leaving lottery officials astonished at his faith in the US Postal Service.

It wasn't even sent via certified or insured mail

Lottery spokeswoman Annette Jenkins
Mr Milligan said in a statement that his priorities were to take care of his family, look for a home and "take a cruise somewhere".

The winning ticket was presented for validation at a Quick Stop store on 7 June, nearly a year after it was purchased and just two days before it was to expire.

TV reports

Mr Milligan said he had first realised he might be a winner last Monday, when he saw a television report about the unclaimed ticket, sold in a small town in the north of New Jersey.

"I said to my wife that I was in that area at the time," he said. "My wife said: 'You had better start tearing up the house to find it'."

But even when he came across the winning ticket in a drawer that night, he did not check it immediately.

"I remembered about it on Friday and took it to the store," he said.

No rush

Lottery bosses had closed the search for the winner last Saturday, thinking nobody had come forward and the cash would be redistributed to the states of New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia and Georgia which run the game.

Unclaimed ticket
The ticket was unclaimed for a year
But on Tuesday they were shocked when Mr Milligan's letter arrived, postmarked the day before the search closed - meaning its holder could still claim the prize.

"It wasn't even sent via certified or insured mail," Lottery spokeswoman Annette Jenkins said on Thursday.

"It's amazing."

Mr Milligan decided to take an annuity worth $1.7m each year over the next 28 years.

On Friday he phoned the shop where he bought the ticket to thank owner Hemang Patel, but the shy winner did not give his name.

"He called here and said thank you for the ticket," said Mr Patel's sister Dipita.

"He said: 'You'll see me on TV at about noon'."

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See also:

06 May 00 | Americas
Jumbo jackpot swells lottery fever
02 Mar 00 | Africa
SA lottery to bring in 'billions'
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