Six years after purchasing a winning New York Lottery ticket that prosecutors say was worth $5 Million, Robert Miles, 49, of Syracuse, NY is drowning in debt having recently filed for bankruptcy with his wife.
In 2006, the father of two, who also helped raise three stepdaughters on a groundskeeper’s salary, recalled purchasing a $20 scratch off lottery ticket during a lunch break ritual at his local convenience store – the Green Ale Market.
At the time he won, the ecstatic Miles turned the ticket into store manager’s Andy Ashkar, 34, and Nayel Ashkar, 36, who after scanning the ticket said he won $5,000 claims Miles. The Ashkar brothers then handed Miles $4,000, claiming the store’s fee for cashing in the ticket was $1,000 recalled Miles in an article on Syracuse.com. Despite protests from the lottery winner, Miles says one of the brothers immediately left the store with the lottery ticket saying he was going to cash in the ticket.
At the time, Miles, who admits to having used crack cocaine the previous evening, says he was in no condition to put up a fight and put his faith in God to resolve the situation in time.
“I knew, I knew,” remarked Miles in regards to winning the lottery ticket being worth $5 Million. “But that day, it wasn’t a good day for me. . . On the day that they did that to me, God spoke to me and said, ‘You know, I’m gonna double that. So I knew one day it was gonna come out and people were gonna believe what I was saying.”
Within a year of the incident, Miles turned his life around, abandoning drugs and acquiring a local steady, maintenance job. For six years he made no attempt to dispute his lottery winnings.
During the same period, the winning lottery ticket was never turned in.
Then on March 1, eleven days before it would have expired, Andy Ashkar turned in the winning ticket according to NY Lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Hapeman.
As is the case whenever a store owner possesses a winning lottery ticket they claim belongs to them, an investigation was conducted by the NY Lottery.
In an October interview with Syracuse.com, Hapeman described the six year lapse between when the ticket was purchased and when the prize was claimed as “Unusual, highly unusual.”
The NY Lottery then put out a press release last month announcing that Ashkar had legitimately bought the ticket in 2006 despite its apparent belief to the contrary as reported by The Associate Press.
According to Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, NY Lottery officials, knowing the story would receive media attention, used the press to find the real winner.
Lottery officials were made even more skeptical when according to Fitzpatrick the winners offered to take less winnings so long as they could skip out on the news conference.
The Ashkars’ attorney, Robert Durr, maintained their innocence on Wednesday, saying in a press conference, “They don't understand why this is happening. . . They think everything they did made sense in their world.”
According to Durr, the brothers waited to cash in the prize because of fears of how it would impact their family and potential embarrassment in their close-knit Palestinian Muslim community where gambling is forbidden.
Following their arraignment on Wednesday the Ashkar brothers were sent to jail, where they are being held on $50,000 bond. The pair has plead not guilty to the charge of conspiracy and attempted grand larceny.
According to Assistant District Attorney Beth Van Doren the prosecution has a solid case against the Ashkars’ including a credible witness and lottery documents that support Miles’ story.
Miles is presently working with the district attorney’s office to prove that he is the rightful owner of the ticket. It is not clear yet as to when Miles will receive his winnings.
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