A man who went to a 7-Eleven in Roseville, Calif., to check on his lottery tickets had picked the right numbers, but state officials said it was the clerk who almost hit the jackpot.
The female clerk told the customer he won $4 on his Mega Millions picks for Aug. 14, and then pocketed his winning ticket worth $555,000, California Lottery officials said.
However, the clerk's alleged scheme fell apart after the unnamed victim became suspicious and called lottery officials.
Rajinder Kaur, 40, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of grand theft, and the ticket was recovered, officials said.
Donald Currier, the lottery's chief legal counsel, said it was the second time in two years that a retail clerk had been arrested for allegedly stealing a winning ticket.
"To any clerks out there who think they can steal a winning ticket, we'll get you," Currier said. "Clerks just don't get away with it."
Kaur was booked into the Placer County jail in Auburn, Calif. on suspicion of grand theft. She was released on $50,000 bail.
Currier said the customer whose ticket was stolen was unaware he'd won more than half a million dollars when he went to the store Aug. 16.
The man, who officials said has a language barrier, purchased five sets of numbers at the 7-Eleven market two days earlier and had used his own numbers to play.
"He knew he had some winning numbers, but he didn't know how much he had won," Currier said.
The winning Mega Millions numbers that week were 5, 8, 9, 24 and 34, all of which the man had selected. Had he also hit the Meganumber of 17, he would have won $122 million.
He handed his winning ticket to the clerk to run through a validation machine to determine the amount won, Currier said.
However, after running the ticket, Kaur told the man, "You've won four dollars," and paid him that amount, Currier said. The attorney said Kaur kept the winning ticket, apparently with designs to cash it later.
Currier said that in the ensuing days, the victim saw news reports about the prize money being unclaimed and that the winning ticket had been purchased at the 7-Eleven in Roseville.
He also kept looking with confusion at the winning numbers, knowing he had played them, the attorney said.
On Tuesday, the man called the lottery office, which referred his complaint to its security and law enforcement division.
Working with Roseville police, the lottery agents, who are sworn peace officers, went to the store to investigate, Currier said.
"They interviewed people, collected evidence, arrested the clerk and recovered the ticket," he said.
If convicted of grand theft with an enhancement based on the high dollar amount, Kaur could face up to four years in state prison, Currier said.
Lottery officials are not yet releasing the name of the victim.
They said the investigation has not concluded and that lottery agents want to make sure the man is the rightful owner of the ticket.
"We believe that this is the guy," Currier said. "But we want to make absolutely sure. Once we finish the investigation, we will release the money."
Officials estimate the man will receive $416,000 after taxes.
Currier said the California Lottery encourages players to sign the backs of their tickets as soon as they purchase them.
"That would prevent fraud if they lose a winning ticket or if someone steals it," Currier said. "The thief will have a much harder time cashing it."
If the ticket is altered in any way after being signed, an investigation would be launched so that the rightful owner could be identified, he said.
Cathy Doyle Johnston, a spokeswoman for the lottery, said retail locations cannot redeem any cash prizes over $599.
If a lottery player believes he or she has won a prize of $600 or more, they are encouraged to contact the California Lottery or one of its district offices, she said.