An 81-year-old Canadian man, a cancer survivor, is suing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLGC), saying it refused to properly investigate a retailer who allegedly cheated him out of a $250,000 winning Encore ticket.
Despite feeling cheated by the store owners, Robert Edmonds settled his civil suit against them in January. While he was originally asking for $250,000 the value of the winning ticket and $500,000 in punitive damages, Edmonds settled for $150,000 because he'd heard they had fallen on hard times.
Despite the settlement, Edmonds hasn't given up the battle for the full prize. He is pursuing a civil suit against the OLGC for $100,000, the balance of the money he believes he's still owed.
During the trial, which began last week, the full story behind the winning lottery ticket is being slowly revealed.
Robert Edmonds says he "flipped out" after reading in the local newspaper that retailers, who he alleges stole his lottery ticket, had hit the jackpot and won $250,000.
"I went bananas," testified the 81-year-old from Coboconk, Ont. "I got very excited and said, `That's my ticket.'"
Edmonds was stunned to read about the windfall in late August 2001, particularly since he'd called the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. a month earlier and warned an employee named Diana that "there is a lady coming down with a ticket of mine to see you and she's going to claim a prize."
That woman is Phyllis LaPlante, who owns Coby Variety with her husband Scott. Edmonds says he went to the store July 27, 2001 to validate two tickets one of then an Encore ticket he'd picked up a week earlier in Fenelon Falls.
Despite hearing the machine chime its winning song twice, Edmonds only was given one free ticket. Phyllis LaPlante kept the winning ticket, he testified.
Earlier this year, Edmonds settled a lawsuit against the LaPlantes for $150,000 far less than the winning ticket's value because he knew the couple had fallen on hard times. The LaPlantes have admitted no wrongdoing.
"Because it's a small town you can't help but know what's going on," said Edmonds about Coboconk, 120 kilometres northeast of Toronto.
After the incident with Edmonds, business at Coby Variety dropped, particularly since it was no longer authorized to sell lottery tickets, forcing the LaPlantes to try to sell the store.
Edmonds is now suing the lottery corporation for refusing to properly investigate Phyllis LaPlante. Edmonds' lawyer, Alan Rachlin, is arguing the lottery corporation is "vicariously liable" for its agents.
The LaPlantes tried to claim their prize July 30, but because it was considered an insider win, they were asked about where they'd obtained the ticket and what numbers they'd played with the accompanying Lotto Super 7 ticket.
On Aug. 1 Edmonds said he was asked by the LaPlantes to stop by Coby Variety because he'd forgotten his second free ticket. Once there, the LaPlantes peppered him with questions about where he got the Encore ticket.
During the trial, it was revealed that Phyllis LaPlante asked officers investigating the theft what would happen if she admitted the offence rather than be found guilty of it.
"I suggested to Mrs. LaPlante that the end result would be the same," testified OPP Det. Const. Joseph Hays, who interviewed her. "She said, `Then what's the point of saying anything?'"
She and her husband Scott LaPlante were arrested on March 1, 2002, for theft and fraud.
Edmonds' lawyer, Alan Rachlin, is arguing that the lottery corporation is "vicariously liable" for its agents. The OLGC says its retailers are independent contractors.
The OLGC has phone records showing an employee received a call from the home of a man who says he called the corporation to warn it about store owners who allegedly stole his $250,000 winning ticket, court was told yesterday.
Edmonds claims to have called the corporation to warn it that Phyllis and Scott LaPlante, who run Coby Variety, kept his winning ticket when he stopped by their store to validate it on July 27. He has testified he spoke with a customer service representative named Diana on Aug. 1, 2001.
During opening remarks for the OLGC, lawyer Jacqueline Wall said while there had been an "open connection" from Edmonds' home to the OLGC call centre for four minutes on Aug. 1, there was no record that he had actually spoken to anyone. But Edmonds has always maintained he spoke with a woman named Diana. He says that when he told her Phyllis LaPlante was en route to claim his prize, Diana's response was: "This will teach you to leave a ticket in the store."
Wall confirmed an OLGC document showed a call from Edmonds' home on Aug. 1 was patched through to extension 8902, indicating he did not hang up before speaking to someone.
While there was an OLGC employee named Diana Cardiff working that day, she has stated she does not remember receiving a call from Edmonds and does not know if she was seated at extension 8902. Edmonds' lawyer, Alan Rachlin, has argued the OLGC was negligent for not springing into action after Edmonds raised red flags about the LaPlantes. As a result, the couple received a cheque three weeks later. After an OPP investigation the LaPlantes were arrested for theft and fraud.
An Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. supervisor "had concerns" about the LaPlantes' claim for the winning $250,000 Encore ticket, but recommended the payout because there was no hard proof it didn't belong to Phyllis LaPlante, the jury told.
Suzi Tan, supervisor of the OLGC prize office, testified LaPlante and husband, Scott, came to her office July 30, 2001, to claim the windfall. As owners of Coby Variety and licensed lottery retailers claiming a large prize, LaPlante was subject to an investigation by the OLGC to ensure she was a legitimate claimant. Special approval was also required as part of the corporation's Insider Win Policy, Tan testified.
Court heard that suspicion arose when LaPlante couldn't answer basic questions about where and when the ticket had been purchased. She said LaPlante told her she'd been travelling throughout Ontario but couldn't remember where she'd bought it. During the interview, she mentioned she'd been at the Jug City store in Fenelon Falls, Ont., buying tickets the week before the draw. Computer records from the OLGC showed that's where the Encore ticket had come from.
"I had concerns about it because she couldn't provide details of the tickets without a lot of prompting," Tan said.
During cross-examination Tan said she figured the shopkeeper couldn't remember where she bought the ticket because she suffered from Bell's palsy. But she admitted to Edmonds' lawyer, Alan Rachlin, that she didn't know the condition had no effect on memory.
Tan said her concerns were alleviated on Aug. 1, 2001, when LaPlante produced three other lottery tickets, including one from the Jug City in Fenelon Falls, with the identified sequence of numbers.
The trial continues today.