Part of stolen lottery jackpot is returned to Grand Prairie man
By ALEX BRANCH
Willis Willis will finally get some of his $1 million lottery jackpot.
On Tuesday, state District Judge Bob Perkins signed an order restoring to the Grand Prairie man $395,000 seized from the bank account of a store clerk accused of stealing the winning ticket.
"I feel pretty good, a bit relieved," said Willis, 67, shortly after the hearing in Austin. "I'm glad we finally made it to this point."
Willis said he planned to spend part of the money on medical bills and a daughter's college tuition.
"It's all stuff that has to be paid for," he said. "Things I really needed the money to take care of."
About $365,000 of the cash restored to Willis was seized by Travis County prosecutors from bank accounts opened by the store clerk, Pankaj Joshi. The other $30,000 was recovered from people in Dallas to whom Joshi had given money.
Authorities believe Joshi took the ticket from Willis, told him it was not a winner and cashed the ticket himself. He then returned to his native Nepal.
The Nepalese government has frozen an additional bank account connected to Joshi there, said Patty Robertson, a Travis County assistant district attorney. Breen said the account is believed to hold around $300,000.
Prosecutors are working with the U.S. State Department to return to the money to Travis County. However, because a foreign government is involved, the process is complicated, Robertson said.
"I really don't have a timetable on when, or if, that will happen," she said.
About $50,000 of the winnings probably won't be recovered because Joshi withdrew it in cash, Breen said.
Joshi, 25, who was a student at the University of Texas at Arlington, is charged in Travis County with fraud and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. His bond is set at $10 million.
Authorities have gone to great lengths to locate him. Robertson said. They have contacted his parents and notified the Nepal Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Newspapers in Kathmandu, the Nepalese capital, have reported extensively on the case, she added.
Breen said he will continue to try to force the Texas Lottery Commission to award Willis the rest of the jackpot. Lottery officials have refused, saying they consider Joshi the winner because he signed and redeemed the ticket.
After Tuesday's ruling, Breen said he wondered how the commission could still deny that Willis was the winner.
"The judge looked at the evidence and determined it was obvious Mr. Willis was the winner," he said.
Willis bought the winning ticket May 29 at the Lucky Food Store at 902 Great Southwest Parkway in Grand Prairie, authorities said. He returned there May 31 to have the Mega Millions ticket and others scanned to see whether they were winners.
The Mega Millions ticket was a winner, but Joshi, who scanned it, gave Willis only $2 for a Cash 5 ticket, authorities said.
ALEX BRANCH, 817-390-7689