SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — One of two brothers accused of conning a man out of a winning $5 million scratch-off ticket was found guilty Wednesday of possessing the stolen ticket, but the pair was acquitted of conspiring to cheat him.
Onondaga County Court Judge Joseph Fahey found 35-year-old Andy Ashkar guilty of possession of stolen property. Fahey cleared Ashkar and his 37-year-old brother, Nayel, of conspiracy charges.
Their nonjury trial ended Friday.
Police and lottery officials said the Ashkar brothers convinced Robert Miles that the ticket was worth only $5,000 when Miles bought it in 2006. Authorities say the brothers paid Miles $4,000, took a $1,000 handling fee, then waited until the ticket was about to expire before trying to claim the jackpot in 2012.
Andy Ashkar testified on the final day of the trial that he went to his father's store for lunch on Oct. 27, 2006, and bought the winning ticket, which cost $20, while he was there.
"I scratched it on the customer side of the counter," Ashkar said, then handed it to his father. "He scanned it. He said, 'Shut up!' He didn't want anyone to know."
Ashkar said he planned to go to the lottery office that day, then changed his mind, called his brother and went to his parents' home.
"I was hesitant. I wanted to do it the right way," said Ashkar, who was unemployed and receiving public assistance at the time. "I didn't want it to have a negative impact on my family."
Andy Ashkar said he waited nearly six years because he was worried for his family's safety. Their convenience store, the Green Ale Market, is located in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
Defense attorney Robert Durr focused his closing arguments on the credibility of the witnesses called by the prosecution. He said they could have made up the story in the hopes Miles would reward them.
Prosecution witness Ramon Rosario testified that he saw Miles buy and scratch the ticket. Before closing arguments, the defense produced federal grand jury testimony from Rosario in a similar case in which Rosario had taken payment from drug dealers in exchange for his help.
"There was no wrongful taking of that ticket. Nobody can place him (Miles) where he scratched the ticket," Durr said. "If he had made a complaint, things could have been done."
Durr reiterated that there still was no proof the winning ticket was ever stolen. Miles testified earlier in the weeklong trial that Andy Ashkar had taken the ticket from him. Miles said he wasn't thinking clearly that day because he had been high on crack cocaine the night before. He said he never got a receipt.
Andy Ashkar faces one to three years in prison when he is sentenced May 29.
The Ashkars' father, Nayef, owns the store that sold the ticket and is charged with conspiracy. He has a separate trial scheduled for September.