Search is on for rightful owner of winning ticket
Are you the victim of an alleged $12.5-million lottery jackpot theft?
Ontario police say someone else celebrated with what should have been your happy dance. The "rightful" owner of the Super 7 ticket was defrauded of the winnings nearly seven years ago, police say.
Meanwhile, investigators allege the family accused of stealing the winnings lived in the lap of luxury — multiple homes and BMW and Mercedes vehicles were among their big-ticket purchases.
On Wednesday, Ontario Provincial Police and Ontario Lottery and Gaming launched a search for the person or persons they're calling the true owner of the ticket that won the Dec. 26, 2003 draw.
"We don't know the identity of the person who bought the ticket because, historically, lottery in Canada has been anonymous," said OLG chairman Paul Godfrey. "But if someone can come in and tell us everything we already know about the ticket, down to the last detail, there's a good chance we're looking at the rightful owner."
Someone bought a ticket at a That's Entertainment video store in St. Catharines, Ont., and validated it in nearby Burlington, where it won a free play, police allege. The father and son who validated the ticket at the convenience store never handed the free ticket over to the customer, police said.
Then that ticket hit the jackpot.
It's alleged the father gave the ticket to his daughter, who claimed the prize and denied she had a connection to a lottery retailer.
Jun-Chul Chung, 60, Kathleen Chung, 29, and Kenneth Chung, 28, face several charges, including fraud over $5,000 and possession under $5,000. They were released on bail after appearing in a Milton, Ont., court Wednesday, and their next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 27.
Police have seized or frozen about $10 million in assets.
The family used the payout to buy five luxury cars, two homes in the Toronto area, commercial properties, fancy jewellery and electronics, police said.
The OLG said it uncovered the alleged fraud thanks to new technology it's been using since June to track and detect patterns in ticket sale data. In this case, the technology created a profile of the owner of the 2003 winning ticket.
The ticket buyer likely lived and worked in both St. Catharines and Burlington and often bought many tickets, which leads investigators to believe the winning ticket was part of a group purchase. The buyer regularly purchased Super 7 tickets at That's Entertainment.
Mr. Godfrey said the new data analysis computer system, developed with Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, can scan data as far back as 1999, and could potentially find that others may have also been defrauded.
Whenever the new technology finds something suspicious, the OLG hands information over to police, he said.
The OLG says other provincial counterparts have expressed interest in adopting similar systems.
Both the OLG and provincial police are prepared to wade through the thousands of calls they expect to receive from people who think they may have won. They will ask each claimant specific questions to determine whether they are the victim in question.
In June, convenience store owner Hafiz Malik was sentenced to one year in jail for stealing and claiming a $5.7 million prize.
Police confirmed they are investigating other potential cases but wouldn't reveal further details.
"This is a never-ending process. As time goes on there will be other suspicious wins that will be investigated," said OPP commissioner Chris Lewis.
The Ontario government called in the police three years ago after the province's ombudsman accused unscrupulous lottery-ticket retailers of collecting tens of millions of dollars in "dishonest" winnings.
The scandals led to changes in the lottery system, which now requires winners to sign their ticket before handing it over to a store clerk, bans clerks from buying tickets in their own store, and plays loud music when a winning ticket is scanned to make sure everyone knows the ticket is a winner.
Mr. Godfrey said that despite another black eye on the OLG's record, he believes the corporation is making progress in regaining the public's trust.
"It has been a long hill up. Are we at the top yet? Definitely not, we have more work to do but we're on the right road," he said. "The public should take great confidence that the OLG is moving swiftly in this area."
OLG, which rakes in about $6.5 billion in revenues a year, has been plagued with other problems ranging from questionable expenses to botched scratch-and-win tickets, malfunctioning slot machines, lawsuits from gambling addicts, and a controversial casino power plant that ended up costing taxpayers $80 million.