Four school board employees, allegedly cheated out of their winning lottery ticket by a retailer who claimed the prize money as his own, received a check for $5.7 million — plus interest — Wednesday from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.
The check came as Ontario Provincial Police announced they had charged Hafiz Malik, a 60-year-old former convenience store owner with theft and fraud following an investigation into "insider wins" at the OLG.
Police allege Malik, who was released on $60,000 bail Wednesday afternoon, validated the group's Lotto 6/49 ticket at his now-closed convenience store in midtown Toronto but didn't tell the customers they had won.
He has been charged with two counts of fraud of more than $5,000 and one count of theft of more than $5,000.
A lawyer for winners Lorraine Teicht, Paul Carlisi, Silvana Pincivero and Aurora Pincivero said his clients played the same numbers regularly and realized they might have been duped after checking the OLG website for the winning numbers nine months ago.
The OLG said when it received a complaint from the group in July it launched an internal investigation and determined the co-workers were the rightful owners.
The winning ticket was purchased in Orillia, Ont. in June 2004 and validated by Malik who allegedly claimed the prize as his own in January of 2005.
The OLG said it did investigate Malik at the time he claimed the prize but CEO Kelly McDougald said she could not comment because the case is before the courts.
Speaking in general terms, McDougald said any "insider" who claimed a prize was subject to a series of questions, which she wouldn't reveal, when they came to claim their money.
OPP said Malik's arrest was part of a larger investigation into "insider wins" prompted by a scathing report by Ontario's ombudsman earlier this year.
In his report Andre Marin blasted the OLG for being more fixated on profits than the integrity of games after a disproportionate number of lottery retailers or their families claimed winning tickets.
Ontario store owners and their families claimed about $100 million in lottery wins between 1999 and 2006, including tens of millions of fraudulent claims ignored by the public lottery corporation, Marin said in his report.
Responding to news of the arrest, Ontario's ombudsman said he was pleased to see the OLG and OPP take the "insider wins" problem seriously.
"No doubt the OLG has undergone important changes in the last few months, but culture change is not achieved overnight," Marin said in a statement. "The developments today are a cautionary reminder to the OLG to remain vigilant and not let its guard down in protecting the public interest."
OPP said they have seized and frozen more than $5 million of Malik's assets, including three cars and a home in Mississauga.
In a news release, the rightful winners said they were thrilled to receive the cash and planned to continue playing the same numbers in the future.
"Life will be a lot easier and more comfortable for my family and I," wrote Aurora Pincivero.
Carlisi said he was "ecstatic" at the new-found cash, which the group was informed they would be receiving in October.
The OLG held off on making that public until OPP revealed results of its investigation.
"This provides a wonderful opportunity for my wife and I to explore many new avenues of interest — a waterfront property, travel and a pearl necklace for the cat!"
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said he hoped the arrest would serve as a warning to other retailers.
"I'm delighted with the signal this is sending to retailers of lottery tickets in the province of Ontario which is — if you try to cheat people out of their winnings, if you try to rip off the system, we're going to be all over you."
OPP said they are still investigating four other "insider wins."