By Matthew Liptak
SYRACUSE, New York (Reuters) - A former convenience store worker in Syracuse, New York, was convicted of stealing a customer's winning $5 million scratch-off lottery ticket and sentenced on Tuesday to up to 25 years in prison.
Seven years ago, Andy Ashkar was working behind the counter at his family's store in Syracuse. He took a winning ticket from customer Robert Miles, which was worth a $5 million prize.
Instead, Ashkar told Miles that the payout was worth $5,000, giving Miles $4,000 and keeping $1,000 as the store's portion.
Ashkar claimed the ticket within the mandatory one-year window, according to lottery spokesperson Carolyn Hapeman, and then waited five years to claim the award at the lottery office in Schenectady, New York.
Lottery officials in Schenectady became suspicious when Ashkar couldn't answer simple questions about how he acquired the ticket and called authorities.
Nayef Ashkar, father of Andy Ashkar and owner of the Green Ale Market, is facing a conspiracy charge related to the stolen ticket.
At the sentencing on Tuesday, Onondaga County Judge Joseph Fahey described Ashkar's actions as predatory.
"You've exhibited some of the most rapacious greed I have seen in a long, long time," Fahey said. "You had six years in which you could have righted what you did to Mr. Miles."
The judge noted that Ashkar worked at an auto dealership making $150,000 a year while Miles works as a maintenance worker in the apartments across the street from the convenience store. He sentenced Ashkar to the maximum term of 8-1/3 to 25 years.
Ashkar's attorney, Robert Durr, filed court documents saying he would appeal the sentence, according to Syracuse.com, a news website. Durr was not immediately available for comment.
Assistant District Attorney Beth Van Doren said she was happy with the outcome.
"Robert Miles has waited a long time for this day. We're sending the message to the community that we're not going to tolerate such greed and deception." Miles, who said he forgave Ashkar, may end up with the $5 million after all.
Hapeman said the lottery is in the final stages of its investigation and soon will determine whether Miles will be awarded the latent $5 million prize.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Lisa Shumaker)