SYRACUSE, N.Y. — In a closely-watched trial in Syracuse, New York, a judge convicted one brother accused of stealing a winning $5 million lottery ticket from a convenience store customer but threw out conspiracy charges against his brother.
Andy Ashkar, 35, was found guilty by Judge Joseph Fahey of criminal possession of stolen property. He was handcuffed and taken to jail immediately following the verdict.
His brother, Nayel, who was acquitted on charges of conspiracy, was free to leave.
Prosecutors say Andy Ashkar stole the ticket from Robert Miles in 2006 and waited nearly six years to cash it in, in hopes he wouldn't get caught. Miles testified to using crack cocaine the night before he bought the winning ticket at The Green Ale Market on East Fayette Street. He said Andy Ashkar told him it was only worth $5,000 when he turned it in to check on the winnings.
Andy Ashkar faces a minimum sentence of 1 to 3 years in prison and a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years for possessing stolen property. The brothers signed a waiver last week allowing the judge to rule from the bench.
The brothers' father, Nayef, is also charged with conspiracy and has a separate trial date scheduled for September. Defense attorney Kevin McCormack, who is representing Nayef Ashkar, said the judge's verdict today "may be helpful" to his client.
Andy Ashkar's sentencing has been scheduled for May 29. Defense attorney Robert Durr said he respected the court's decision, though he felt there was enough reasonable doubt to acquit his client on all charges.
He said he would be speaking soon with the Ashkar family about Andy's right to appeal.
Attorney Robert Tisdell, who represented Nayel Ashkar, left immediately following the verdict. He said he was disappointed with the judge's decision to convict Andy Ashkar for possession of stolen property as he walked toward the elevator.
It's still unclear whether or when Miles, who says he is the rightful owner of the $5 million ticket, will be paid by the lottery.
As prosecutor Beth Van Doren left the courtroom, she said she was "amazed" by and "ecstatic" about the verdict.
She said she was "proud an ex-addict was able to come forward, and be believed."
"Some say (the lottery) is a dollar and a dream, but for Rob Miles it was $20 and a nightmare."
Van Doren said the trial backs Miles' assertion that he is the rightful owner of the $5 million.
"I am so confident the lottery is going to do the right thing," she said.
News of verdict spreads near competitor's store
No one was in sight around the Green Ale Market this morning as the verdict was announced in the case of a stolen $5 million lottery ticket bought at the store.
But two blocks away, it was busy as usual around King Soloman's Food Mart, where news of the guilty verdict spread quickly.
Outside, Jennifer Graves set up a tent to sell clothing to the people walking by. Graves, who lived in Syracuse for 30 years before moving to Auburn five years ago, said she was happy with the verdict.
Graves called what happened "uncalled for and despicable." Prosecutors say Andy Ashkar stole the ticket from its rightful owner, Robert Miles, who bought it at the Green Ale Market, the Ashkars' family store. Miles has said he was high on crack cocaine at the time and was convinced to only take $4,000 in winnings.
"You can't do that to people, no matter who they are," Graves said. "They're human beings."
Graves said she doesn't think the market should be allowed to remain open. Its ability to sell lottery tickets has already been stripped.
Ralph Maloney, who lives near the market on Croly Street, said the Ashkars coerced Miles out of his rightful money.
"They knew what they were doing," Maloney said. "They thought the were going to get away with it."
Maloney said he knew both Miles and the Ashkars. Even though he thought what happened was wrong, he continued going to their store because it was the only one close by.
"I hope (Miles) gets all his money," Maloney said.
Inside the competing King Soloman's store, the man behind the counter declined comment. But he had his laptop open, following the coverage of the verdict.
Several people inside the store talked excitedly about the case. A few said that neither side deserved to get the money.