WELLINGTON, Fla. — Florida Lottery security officials have opened an investigation into the case of a 69-year-old Wellington man who lost a scratch-off ticket worth $500,000.
But it's too early to tell if Louis Tolentino will get the money.
"They have begun an investigation, but there's nothing conclusive at this time," said Laurie Wright, spokeswoman for The Florida Lottery.
Tolentino is behind on his mortgage. His maintenance payments are past due. Medical bills are mounting.
His $500,000 scratch-off ticket would have solved all his problems. But as fast and easy as it came, it was gone, and he is in mourning.
"They're gonna see what they can do," he said Monday, his voice shaky. He said he was too distraught to say any more.
The retiree set out to cash the ticket Wednesday at a local Florida Lottery office but lost it, along with his hope of getting up-to-date with his bills.
"I'm sick. Now I owe everybody," said Tolentino, a onetime New York City garbage truck driver who said Social Security is his only source of income. "That ticket was God sent."
Tolentino said he wrapped the ticket in some papers and put it in his back pocket on his way to the lottery office.
When he got to the place he thought the office was in West Palm Beach, he realized it had moved. He stopped at a gas station to ask for directions.
"There was someone in line behind me that got very close to me," he said.
But Tolentino was in such a rush to cash his ticket, he left for the new address. He ended up not finding it.
"I went home and put the car in the garage and checked my back pocket," he said. "It wasn't there. I took the car apart, ripped my arms up. It wasn't there."
Tolentino bought the Gold Rush ticket at Gold Coast Liquors on Lake Worth Road, across the street from the Wycliffe Country Club community where he lives with his wife, Sandra. He retired nine years ago.
When he scratched off the ticket, he wasn't sure he had won.
"I thought I had maybe won $50," he said. "But there was another zero, and then another and another."
Still unsure, Tolentino headed to the liquor store to find out exactly how big his prize was.
"The machine printed out a confirmation ticket, which confirmed he had won the $500,000," said Larry Hillard, a clerk at the store who was not there when Tolentino came in with his ticket. "My understanding is a scratch-off ticket is like a bearer bond: Whoever has it, has the money."
Tolentino doesn't have much hope that someone will return the ticket. He said he filed a report with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and called the Florida Lottery.
Tolentino said it was a mistake not to write his name and address on the back of the ticket. Lottery officials agree.
"That's the surest way that you can make a claim for that ticket," Wright said.
She said winning tickets go missing occasionally and are resolved on a case-by-case basis.
Tolentino is now heartbroken.
"I was so happy, in such a rush to get the money," he said. "Now I can't sleep. I haven't eaten in four days."
But he'll give this a try: "I do hope the Lotto people let me cash this with the confirmation ticket" from the liquor store, he said. "They got the proof."