SYRACUSE, N.Y. A maintenance worker says he and his wife were forced to file for bankruptcy after he was conned out of a $5 million lottery ticket that two brothers have been charged with trying to falsely claim.
Robert Miles was identified in court papers as the rightful owner of the scratch-off ticket. Two Syracuse brothers face charges of attempted grand larceny and possession of stolen property after they claimed they bought the winning ticket at their parents' store.
The Lottery Division, which planted a fake story with the media to lure the real winner to come forward, has suspended the parents' license to sell tickets at least until after the criminal case is completed.
Miles told The Syracuse Post-Standard that he bought the winning ticket in 2006 at the corner store near the apartment complex where he works as a maintenance man. Prosecutors say the store owners' son Andy Ashkar told Miles the ticket was worth only $5,000. Ashkar and his brother, Nayel, were arrested Tuesday for trying to claim the jackpot.
Miles told the newspaper that he had a lunchtime ritual of buying as much as $200 worth of scratch-off lottery tickets and knew he'd won big with the $20 ticket in 2006. When he brought the ticket to the market, he knew it was worth $5 million, but Andy Ashkar scanned it and said it was worth only $5,000, Miles said.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick has said Miles didn't realize the true value of the ticket at the time he cashed it in and that Ashkar took advantage of his confusion.
Miles said Ashkar ran out the door of the store and drove off in a car with the ticket after giving him $4,000 and saying there was a $1,000 cashing fee. He said he ran after the car, yelling for it to stop, but then dropped the fight because he'd gotten high on crack cocaine the night before and wasn't feeling well.
Friends told him to pursue the matter but he never did because, he told the paper, it would have been his word against the Ashkars'. After the bogus story was floated in October, Miles' friends again urged him to come forward. He didn't. A police officer who had heard about it finally tracked him down and persuaded him to go to authorities.
A woman who answered the phone at a number listed in Miles' name said it was not his number and a second phone number listed in Miles' name was disconnected Thursday. Fitzpatrick and lottery spokeswoman Carolyn Hapeman did not immediately return calls seeking comment Thursday.
Miles told the newspaper that he no longer uses drugs, has held a steady job for years and is a good father to his two children and three stepdaughters.
"On the day that they did that to me, God spoke to me and said, `You know, I'm going to double that,"' Miles told the newspaper. "So I knew one day it was going to come out and people were going to believe what I was saying."
The Ashkar brothers, both employed as managers at area auto dealerships, were being held on $25,000 cash or $50,000 bond after their arraignment Wednesday. Their lawyer, Bob Durr, said the brothers are adamant that they legitimately own the ticket.