Clerks Accused of Lottery Fraud

By: Gerri L. Elder

In Minnesota, five convenience store clerks at five Twin Cities stores have been charged with felony lottery fraud for allegedly stealing winning lottery tickets. The alleged theft was discovered during the Minnesota State Lottery’s first compliance test. Lottery officials say the compliance test was part of an ongoing effort to ensure that players receive the correct prizes.

Authorities say that when undercover agents presented winning scratch-off lottery tickets, instead of verifying and paying out on the winning tickets, the clerks pocketed them and collected the payout for themselves later. Three accomplices were also arrested and charged with felony lottery fraud in the sting and are now in need of criminal defense.

A total of eight suspects were charged with felony lottery fraud. If convicted, the suspects face a maximum of five years in prison for each charge. Fraud is a white-collar crime that can be classified as a misdemeanor or a felony, usually depending on the amount and extent of damages. Felony charges generally carry harsher penalties than misdemeanors with longer jail sentences and larger fines. A person convicted of fraud may also be ordered to pay restitution for the damages.

During December and January, lottery officials conducted undercover investigations at 186 randomly selected stores. Agents presented the clerks with specially marked winning scratch-off lottery tickets with prizes ranging from $7,000 to $21,000 and asked for verification of the prizes. The investigations were primarily to ensure that clerks were correctly advising winners how to claim their winnings, but what they found was shocking.

Clerks are trained to advise customers with winning tickets worth $600 or more that the tickets must be verified and cashed in at the state lottery headquarters. However, some clerks told undercover agents that the tickets were losers and offered to throw them away. These clerks then retrieved the tickets and cashed them in at the lottery headquarters themselves or through an accomplice.

Lottery officials say that fewer than three percent of clerks at the stores that were screened broke the law. A similar lottery investigation in California uncovered that 18 percent of the 350 stores that were screened were violating the law. The Twin Cities stores where violations occurred may face penalties, including a suspension of lottery ticket sales or cancellation of their contracts.

Considering the problem of lottery fraud seems to be widespread, players should beware of scams. The next time you play the lottery and think you have a winning ticket; it may be wise to head directly to the state lottery commission for verification of the prize, rather than risk being lied to and having your winnings stolen.