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ABC duped by Powerball lottery winner hoax

Feb 22, 2006, 12:59 pm

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The brief hoax involving a man claiming to be an out-of-work truck driver who won the $365 million Powerball jackpot was months in the making.

It involved two men who have jerked the chains of the national news media for years and was financed by a Texas author seeking publicity for his books, one of the pranksters said Tuesday.

"We had decided that one of these days, there'll be a record jackpot, and we'll have to go," said Bob Pagani, who portrayed the unemployed man who spent $2,000 on Monday buying food for everyone at a Lincoln restaurant.

Pagani said he is a former disc jockey and book editor who lives near Pacific City, Ore. He confessed Tuesday to the hoax but said he felt no guilt.

"We spent a lot of money buying people's lunches. They had a thrill. . . . Nobody got hurt," he said. "It's kind of like a magic trick - a magician lies to you."

Pagani walked into a Village Inn on Monday afternoon, announced that he was the winner and bought a round of meals. The news media were apparently summoned by a restaurant employee. "Good Morning America" and "World News Tonight," among others, did on-camera interviews with Pagani.

Pagani said the hoax was hatched in conjunction with Alan Abel, a Connecticut prankster and drummer who started staging hoaxes in a 1959 appearance on the "Today" show, according to his Web site.

"Every once in a while, he has a wild hair," Pagani said.

He said the timing was per-fect because of the Presidents Day holiday. It closed the Nebraska Lottery office, delaying any official announcement. Because it was a record jackpot, a news media frenzy seemed guaranteed.

The hoax started falling apart as reporters questioned discrepancies in Pagani's story, including how the ticket was purchased. He said he chose the numbers, but lottery officials said the winning ticket was a computer-generated "Quick Pick."

Pagani said he flew in from Oregon on Sunday night and drove to Lincoln on Monday. Two other people, who said they were Pagani's son and niece, also flew in.

Pagani said Joe Vitale, who identified himself as an Austin, Texas, author, financed the hoax - paying for the airline tickets and two nights of motel stays in Omaha, as well as the $2,000 for all the meals at Village Inn.

Before he flew home Tuesday, Pagani said he gets the same thrill from hoaxes as someone who collects stamps.

"With this, I can say I was in the New York Times, the Washington Post and on Good Morning America."

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