Store owner pleads guilty to stealing ticket

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 5:19 PM

A store owner pleaded guilty Friday to fraud and theft for keeping a winning multimillion dollar lottery ticket for himself when the real winners brought it in to be validated.

Hafiz Malik stole the ticket, worth US$5.4 million, while he ran a convenience store in Toronto in June 2004 and cashed it in about six months later. He admitted his guilt in an agreed statement of facts read into court Friday.

Police seized Malik's assets, including his home, bank account, investment account and three vehicles.

Malik, 62, faces up to 10 years in jail.

The four real winners, co-workers at a school board, realized something was amiss after checking the lottery Web site a year after the draw.

"Two of them were at a party and got talking about their lottery misfortunes and they said 'You know these darn numbers have never been lucky for us, I wonder if they ever won historically," said Greg Harris, their lawyer. "They punched in their numbers, and lo and behold they looked and said 'My God, we won. Not only did we win but we won the jackpot about a year ago.'"

Harris said they at first suspected that somebody in their group had received the money and had not shared it. Harris said accusations flew for months. They even hired a private investigator to look into one of the group members.

"You can imagine. One of the group members is in charge of ensuring the tickets are bought on a routine basis and they use the same numbers all the time, and so suspicions started arising," Harris said.

"Eventually they pieced together the puzzle and realized it was the retailer that defrauded them."

They eventually got their check, in addition to US$741,000 in interest they would have earned had the ticket not been stolen.

Harris said his clients are looking forward to Malik's sentencing on March 16.

Ontario's ombudsman accused the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in 2007 of ignoring alleged fraud by retailers who were winning too many prizes.

At least four other store owners or their employees came under investigation in Ontario for similar accusations.

Several steps have been taken to address the problem, including installing self-serve ticket checkers in Ontario and a rule that players have to sign their lottery tickets before cashing them in.