When backpackers Caroline Day and Mei-Yin Lee discovered they had won Lotto they rang home from the newsagency. It was after one in the morning in Britain but Ms. Day wanted to share the news with her mother.
During that joyous phone call, they calculated they had won about £220,000 (US$300,000).
But three weeks later when Dr. Lee rang NSW Lotteries to inquire about the money, a "bold" fraud by an employee at the newsagency came to light — and it would be another 27 months before the pair saw their money.
In an email to the Herald from her home in Britain, Dr. Lee — an Australian citizen from Perth — said she was "over the moon" that their long legal battle with NSW Lotteries had been settled and that changes had been made to the way claims were processed.
On January 4, 2005, Dr. Lee and Ms. Day presented their Lotto ticket at the World Square Newsagency Bookshop. A friend took their photo with the ticket before they handed it in and filled in a claim form.
After the transaction, the employee who had served them, Chrishartato Ongkoputra, known as Chris Ong, substituted their claim form for one of his own. He then sent his form, and their winning ticket, to NSW Lotteries.
"The stars really aligned for him," said the barrister James Stevenson, SC, who is representing newsagents Michael Pavellis and his partner Sheila Urech-Tan.
Mr. Ong knew that NSW Lotteries would not pay out for 14 days. He told his boss he was having visa problems and needed to return temporarily to Indonesia. He gambled that the backpackers would not chase up their win until after he had left the country.
"The [newsagents] have been betrayed by a person they had no reason to doubt. They now find themselves in the position of being sued for half a million dollars plus costs by an agency of the government," Mr. Stevenson said.
At the time of Mr. Ong's fraud, NSW Lotteries was already reviewing its security following a similar fraud at an agency in Croydon. A report by NSW Lotteries, tendered in evidence, said it needed to address the problem with unregistered tickets to protect the corporate image and customer confidence.
Dr. Lee is just happy the matter has been settled.
"The legal battle was hard, both financially and because it was halfway around the world in a different time zone," she said. "We took the risk and fought because we believed we were morally right. We are pleased that they have altered the claim procedures so there is no chance that it can happen to anyone else. We hope that one day Chrishartato Ongkoputra will be caught and prosecuted," she said.
The hearing continues.
The Great Lotto sting: how he did it
January 4, 2005: Winning Lotto ticket worth $574,000 lodged at World Square newsagency. An employee, Chris Ong, substitutes claim form, and sends his claim and ticket to NSW Lotteries.
January 12: NSW Lotteries sends Ong a letter congratulating him on his win.
January 18: NSW Lotteries transfers money into his account. The following day Ong withdraws $574,000 (US$473,600) in cash.
January 27: Ong leaves Australia.
January 31: The real winners, Mei-Yin Lee and Caroline Day, contact NSW Lotteries inquiring about their prize.
Look, Mom ... Mei-Yin Lee and Caroline Day with their
winning ticket at the World Square Newsagency.
Chris Ong is in the background.