Two traders for the Chicago Board Options Exchange filed a police complaint Friday against a trading clerk who they claim pocketed their $175,000 Mega Millions lottery ticket this week.
But a family friend says she doesn't believe the clerk, whom she has known for 22 years, could have stolen anything.
"She's a very honest, trustworthy person," said Carole Masterson, whose brother is the father of the clerk's two children. "I don't think she'd do something like this. She's not stupid."
Traders, identified by police as Richard Tobin and Richard Lakawalle, spread out their lottery tickets along a police counter on Friday. They insisted the winning ticket was among the 38 that Tobin's 21-year-old son Matthew Tobin bought on Tuesday afternoon for a conglomerate of 16 traders.
Chicago police said the traders accuse the 44-year-old trading clerk of "deceptive practice," but police say the complaint could be changed to theft.
"They sent her to check the tickets, saying, 'See if we come up a winner,' " said Capt. James Knightly. "She's saying she never had the ticket."
The store owner at A & B Tobacco, where the trading clerk went to redeem any winnings, said the clerk signed her name and address on the back of the winning ticket but later returned to the store with Tobin and other traders and claimed she never had the ticket.
The trading clerk was sent home on leave Wednesday, police said. Traders had publicly hounded her for hours demanding the ticket before she left. The Sun-Times is not naming the clerk because she hasn't been charged with a crime.
Meanwhile, lottery officials say no one has presented the first-place ticket for payment. The lottery will hold off paying a winner for 10 business days, allowing the disputed ownership to clear up or a lawsuit to be filed. Mega Millions lottery rules insist that winnings cannot be awarded without the original ticket.
There have been disputes over who owns lottery tickets, notably the 1993 case of Carol Ann Stonecipher of Kane County, who had the winning ticket in an $11 million drawing. She later sued successfully for the full amount after the store and its clerk tried to claim five duplicate tickets that came out of the machine in error as their own.
But there has never been a case in which the winners couldn't claim their award because the ticket had been misplaced by a third party, said Mike Freedlund, legal counsel for the Illinois Lottery.
"I would have to call out the attorney general to see whether we could pay it or not without the actual ticket," Freedlund said. "We just want to follow the rules and the law."