Lottery agents cashing in at their own stores

An exclusive 22News I-Team investigation.

(WWLP) – The 22News I-Team exposes lottery agents cashing in tickets sold at their own stores. In some cases its more than $100,000. The state lottery’s communication director says what we’ve uncovered is more than just luck.

From scratch tickets to keno, some lottery agents are cashing in winning tickets sold in their own store. We’re not talking chump change, some of the lottery agents are bringing in anywhere from $10,000 to $270,000

The 22News I-Team went through hundreds of pages of state records and connected the dots. We discovered 22 Lottery agents have cashed in at least $1.5 million worth of winning tickets from 2010-2014 sold at their own stores.  The I-Team wanted to find out if this is legal.  Christian Teja is the Massachusetts Lottery’s Director of Communications.

(Are lottery agents allowed to play the lottery at their own stores?) “Lottery agents are allowed at their own stores, we do discourage them and their employees from playing at their own locations,” said Teja.

The 22News I-Team went to Magnolia Variety, a village in Gloucester, where lottery agent Charles Azarian has cashed in more than $192,000 worth of winning scratch tickets from his store since 2010.  As soon as we told him what we were there for, he didn’t want to talk to us.

(You just seem to win every $10,000 ticket that comes out of your store, are you winning those are cashing those in for someone else?) He wouldn’t answer our questions and walked away.

The I-Team discovered Azarian has cashed in four $10,000 instant winners. The state lottery confirmed he had sold at least four, but no more than six $10,000 instant tickets in that time frame.

(What are the odds that the lottery agents are winning these tickets themselves?) “The odds are pretty unlikely that these agents are winning all these prizes,” said Teja.

In Braintree, Wadi Bitar had cashed in at least $124,000 worth of winning lottery tickets since 2010, including 63 $1,000 instant tickets.  The woman who owns the property his store was in, told the I-Team he no longer leases from her and she believes he moved back to Argentina in February.

In Salem, Luong Nguyen cashed in $71,000 worth of winning tickets last year alone.

“Sometimes some old people they cannot go to the market, they cannot go over there, so I help them,” said Nguyen.
(You help them cash it in?)
“Aha,” said Nguyen.  He continues, “We have a lot of old customers around here.”
(You’re not winning all the tickets that are coming through here?)
“No,” said Nguyen.
(How often does that happen?)
“It depends, it depends, one time a week you know,” said Nguyen.
(Do you get a cut out of that?)
“They pay the tax for me,” said Nguyen.

Nguyen cashed both of the $10,000 instant tickets sold at his store last year.

The only person in western Massachusetts to make our list is Sherry-Lyn Via.  She’s the lottery agent at  350 Grill in Springfield, where they don’t sell scratch tickets, but she’s cashed in more than $137,000 playing Keno at her restaurant, the Mardi Gras and the former OZ nightclub.

Via admitted to sometimes cashing in winning tickets for her mother, but told the I-Team she’s not doing anything wrong.

Teja told the I-Team for someone to win this often at their own store, especially on scratch tickets, its likely that they’re working with someone who is buying these tickets.

“It is not illegal on its own to pass it from person to person where it becomes an issue is if someone is doing it to try and avoid some tax responsibility  that’s a serious offense,” said Teja.

Teja told the I-Team the lottery has safeguards in place to ensure agents aren’t “peaking” on scratch tickets.  Someone may ask another person to cash in a lottery ticket if they for example owed child support, didn’t want to report the gambling winnings or if they were an illegal immigrant.  The I-Team will follow-up on this story to see if any of the lottery agents we’ve exposed are disciplined.

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