Louisiana Lottery Prevents Theft, Finds Tickets Rightful Owner
Signing the back of her $10,000 winning Mega Millions ticket protected one Louisiana Lottery player and derailed a retailer's attempt at fraud, thanks to a joint investigation between Lottery security officials and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. One of the owners of Downman Center convenience store in New Orleans, Raed Alhindi, was arrested today for attempting to cash an altered winning Lottery ticket with the intent to defraud.
Last month, the 31-year-old Harvey resident presented the winning ticket at the Lottery's New Orleans office in Metairie. Lottery personnel were tipped off to the possibility of fraud when they saw that the original signature on the back of the ticket had been scratched out with Alhindi's name written instead. All winning tickets worth more than $600 must be claimed at a Lottery office.
Lottery security was called in to investigate. Utilizing sophisticated equipment, the scratch marks were lifted to reveal the original signature belonging to 34-year-old Fong Kwok of New Orleans, the rightful owner of the ticket. Kwok is the owner of Bamboo Restaurant located in the same complex as the convenience store.
When speaking with authorities, Kwok confirmed that she regularly purchases Lottery tickets at Downman Center and always signs the back of them. She did the same for the ticket she purchased for the April 13 Mega Millions drawing, which matched four of the five white ball numbers plus the yellow Mega Ball number to win $10,000. She said when she had her tickets checked at Downman Center, she was told they were not winners.
As a result of Alhindi's arrest, the Lottery suspended Downman Center's license to sell its products. Kwok is planning to collect her winnings Monday at the Lottery's New Orleans regional office in Metairie.
"It was a big surprise when the Lottery contacted me," said Kwok. "This is the first time I've ever won-my family didn't believe me when I told them! I opened my restaurant four years ago and I haven't had a lot of time off. I plan on using the money to take a vacation with my family."
In addition to Downman Center, Alhindi held ownership in three other stores, which also had their Lottery licenses suspended: Circle M on Williams Boulevard in Kenner, Jefferson Spur on Jefferson Highway in Jefferson and Sherwood Discount Market on Sherwood Forest Boulevard in Baton Rouge.
The criminal matter has been turned over to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. The charge against Alhindi, false or altered lottery tickets (LA RS 47:9071), is a felony offense punishable by no less than five years but no more than 20 years imprisonment without parole.
"While fraud is rare among our 2,800 retailers, we take the issue very seriously as evidenced by our diligent and proactive response in this situation. We go to great lengths to protect our players and ensure the public's trust," said Lottery President Rose Hudson. "Promoting our Sign it Now message and other consumer tips is obviously working. Because Ms. Kwok signed the back of her ticket, we were able to do our job to deter theft."
The Lottery offers players numerous consumer protection tips, in addition to signing the back of tickets. Customer display units located at every Lottery retailer reveal the value of a ticket after being scanned and instruct winners to visit a Lottery office if a prize is over $600, the maximum amount that can be claimed at a retailer. Players can also ask for a print-out of this message, called a validation receipt.
The Lottery encourages players to proactively check their tickets and understand how each game is played to have a good idea of how much they've won before presenting a ticket for cashing at a retailer. These tips and a related video can be found on the Player Protection section of the Lottery's website.