Battling the sniffs and coughs of a summer cold, Julie Prive, 27-year-old mother of two, stood before a jury in Barnstable County, Massachusetts Superior Court yesterday and recalled the evening in May 2002 when she had believed her life had changed forever.
Prive said she was at home, sorting through a pile of lottery tickets she had collected from the trash at the Tedeschi convenience store where she worked, checking them and repackaging them for a second-chance game run by the state lottery to encourage recycling.
She picked up the second-to-last ticket in the pile, a $10 scratch ticket for a game called "$600 Million Spectacular." To her shock and delight, the sliver of paper was a winner, a fantasy turned reality worth a staggering $4 million jackpot, untold riches for a young family with years of college expenses, vacations, and now, perhaps, homes and cars in their future.
The ticket has not turned out to be the passport to wealth and serenity that Prive dreamed of that night. Instead, it has become the centerpiece in a legal battle that put Prive on the witness stand yesterday, her hands locked in front of her.
The battle pits Prive and her husband, David, against two customers from the Tedeschi store, Raymond MacDonald and Monica Hertz, who claim the winning ticket was among the 45 tickets they bought that day.
In court yesterday, MacDonald, a 65-year-old retiree, sat silently on a bench across from Prive. Court records show he won a $2 million jackpot on a scratch ticket in 1997 and buys up to $100 in lottery tickets nearly every day. On Tuesday, MacDonald said he never meant to give away the jackpot, and only gave Prive the ticket as part of a handful of tickets he believed were worthless so that she could use them in the recycling game, the Cape Cod Times reported.
Both couples and their lawyers declined to be interviewed yesterday, saying that the judge had placed a gag order on them.
In her testimony yesterday, Prive told the jurors that the winning ticket came from a bag of tickets she had collected from the trash at the store. She told the jury that the activity had become a mundane evening ritual.
Prive said she and her husband were so excited by the sudden twist of fate that they slept only an hour that night as she called friends to tell them the news. She put the ticket in the freezer for safekeeping.
"I was shaking," Prive told the jurors, who leaned closely on elbows and scribbled notes on pads. "I woke my husband up. He thought someone had died because I was crying and shaking."
MacDonald, dressed in a blue blazer with silver hair raked neatly across his head, shifted a few times in his seat as Prive described her claim to the fortune and the friendship they used to share at Tedeschi on East Falmouth Highway. Prive said MacDonald had been one of her favorite customers, a face she looked forward to seeing between trips to stock the cooler, refill the coffee station, or handle the afternoon rush of schoolchildren buying candy and soda.
"I would tear his tickets for him," Prive recalled yesterday.
The dispute has provided ample grist for patrons at Cape Cod's coffee shops and convenience stores.
"Personally, I think it's hilarious," said Charles Xander, who works at the Barnstable General Store. "I don't see how you can have two people be the rightful owners of a lottery ticket."
Since 2002, Prive and her husband have been collecting the winnings from the scratch ticket -- $200,000 a year, for 20 years -- for a total so far of $600,000, before taxes. Lottery officials said they plan to continue making the payments unless told to do otherwise by the court. Prive still works at the same Tedeschi.