SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Two brothers from central New York who claimed a $5 million lottery ticket sold at their family's store have been accused of scamming the winning ticket from a customer.
Andy Ashkar, 34, and Nayel Ashkar, 36, are charged with second-degree attempted grand larceny and fourth-degree conspiracy. Andy Ashkar also was charged with first-degree criminal possession of stolen property, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said Tuesday.
Fitzpatrick said the legitimate purchaser is a 49-year-old married father of two who came forward after suspicious lottery security officials trying to find the true winner told the story of the brothers' win to a Syracuse newspaper last month.
He had been fooled into giving up the winning scratch-off ticket when he went to cash it at the market in October 2006.
"He wasn't thinking clearly at the time," Fitzpatrick said of winner's initial reading of the ticket. "He says to a buddy he won $5,000. The friend says, 'No, I think you won $5 million,' and he says, 'No, it couldn't be.'"
When he went to the Ashkar family's Green Ale market to cash in, Andy Ashkar took advantage of the confusion to say he'd won $5,000 and successfully offered the winner $4,000 in cash to avoid taxes and other complications, the prosecutor said.
Andy Ashkar claimed in March that he bought the ticket at his parents' convenience store in Syracuse in 2006, decided to share it with his brother and delayed claiming the prize until shortly before it would have expired because he didn't want it to influence his engagement and subsequent marriage, according the state lottery division's original account.
In fact, Fitzpatrick said, the lottery had doubts about the Ashkars' story, in part because they asked if they could take a lesser amount in exchange for the lottery foregoing the usual news conference held for big winners.
"The lottery people sniffed it out right away," Fitzpatrick said.
He said his office was called into the case by the lottery and at about the same time the bogus story was reported, authorities knew about the true winner, who will be named after he gets his affairs in order, from a Syracuse police officer who picked up information about him on the street.
Fitzpatrick said the winner had a "nagging" feeling over the years that he'd been cheated, but it wasn't until the story of the brothers' claim hit the news that a friend told him he'd been right.
"I hope I can get the guy his dough," Fitzpatrick said of the winner, whom he described as a hardworking maintenance staffer in city buildings.
Because the payout is in installments of $250,000 annually for 20 years, Fitzpatrick said, the winner may be entitled to $1.5 million right away for the six years that have passed since he bought the ticket.
A call to the lottery division wasn't immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.
The Ashkars, both employed as managers at area auto dealerships, were being held ahead of their arraignment Wednesday. Their father, Nayek Ashkar, had no comment when reached Tuesday.
Bob Durr, the lawyer for the brothers, said they will plead not guilty.
They continue to maintain they legitimately received the ticket, Durr said, while declining to comment on details of the case until he sees the indictment.