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A Town Hunts for $15-Million Lotto Ticket

February 22, 1996|ERIN TEXEIRA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Money problems are the talk of the town. But folks in Pearblossom, a quiet desert hamlet southeast of Palmdale, are not so much worried about the local real estate market or the dearth of jobs as they are about a $15-million pile of cash with no place to call home.

A little more than a month ago, someone bought a quick-pick lottery ticket in the Town & Country Market. If anyone knows who, they aren't saying, and no one has claimed the winning ticket.

But in neighborhood bars and local schools, in four-table cafes and produce stands in this commuter town, residents chew on the idea of winning the big bucks.

They reconstruct their actions on Jan. 19, the day the ticket was sold. They wonder if maybe, just maybe, they have the orange-and-white Lotto ticket stuffed in a jeans pocket, tossed into an ashtray, lost in a pile of bills.

Many have scoured their homes in search of the ticket. Others have called Town & Country, the only place in Pearblossom that sells lottery tickets, demanding to see the security videotape they say will prove they bought the winner.

One guy even crawled through the market's trash bin.

Twice.

The winner will haul home $540,000 a year after taxes for the next 20 years.

"There are about 20 different rumors floating around about where that ticket is," said Town & Country owner Mike Dorgalli. "Is it the schoolteacher who says she has it at home? Is it someone who was just passing through on their way to Las Vegas who forgot they even bought the ticket?

"Only God knows the truth, I guess."

Maybe. But one of the rumors concerns Dorgalli himself. Dorgalli said he bought a ticket that morning, but won't say what time, and won't say if it turned out to be the winner. Kevin Leasure, a Pearblossom construction worker, said he believes Dorgalli has the ticket locked in a safe somewhere, waiting for the suspense--and publicity for his store--to build.

When asked flat out if he had the ticket, Dorgalli turned suddenly serious: "I won't confirm or deny that." In any case, Dorgalli gets a $75,000 cut of the winnings--half a percent--because he owns the store where the winning ticket was bought.

State lottery officials call the store about twice a week to inquire if the winner has come forward. They don't quite know what to make of the unclaimed ticket.

Only seven times in the 10-year history of the lottery has a winning ticket gone unclaimed, according to spokeswoman Norma Minas. Winners have 180 days to claim their prize. After that, the money goes to state schools, Minas said.

The ticket in question was bought between 9 and 10 a.m. with the numbers 6, 13, 22, 30, 44 and 48. About 200 or 300 tickets were sold at Town & Country that day, Dorgalli said.

Down the road from Town & Country, at Cactus Kate's Saloon, several construction workers lingered in the smoky bar as the rain outside kept them from the day's toil.

"We bought a group ticket together for that jackpot," said Mike Mauser, who lives three miles down the road in Littlerock. "When we heard, we ran over to see if it was us. It wasn't. What can you do?"

Speculating is what most folks are doing. And dreaming.

Wanda Stanbaugh, a Town & Country clerk who may have sold the winning ticket, laughed heartily at the suggestion that there was anything else to talk about. "Ha, are you kidding?" she said, turning up the country music on a portable radio as she helped the next customer, who wanted a Lotto ticket.

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