NORTH POINT, Md. — The owner of a liquor store in North Point, Maryland, was arrested and charged with grand theft, petty theft, and fraud after she was caught stealing an undercover agent's winning lottery ticket worth $10,000.
Ross Liquors, located in the Merritt North Shopping Center, had its Maryland Lottery license revoked following the undercover operation. The theft occured on last week, on March 8th.
Ross Liquors store owner, Melissa Ann Stone, 39, of the 3900 block of Goose Harbor Road in Middle River, has been charged with attempted theft of between $10,000 and $100,000. A trial date has been set for May 26.
Ross Liquors remains open, but no longer sells lottery tickets or hosts Maryland Lottery Keno.
A lottery security investigator, acting on a tip, took a winning ticket to Ross Liquors, but was told the ticket was not a winning number.
Police said when Stone scanned it, the lottery terminal made a loud noise, which is normal when a winning ticket is cashed in. Investigators said the horn is loud enough for the hearing impaired to hear.
"It's pretty obvious — bells, whistles and lights go off letting the agent know that it's a winning ticket, but in this case (she) would tell the person it wasn't a winning ticket and keep the ticket," Baltimore County Police Lt. Rob McCullough said.
Stone told the undercover agent that the ticket wasn't a winner and, later that day, she went to the Maryland State Lottery Commission and tried to cash in the scratch-off ticket for herself, detectives said.
Stone was later arrested and charged with grand theft, petty theft and fraud.
Winning tickets over $5,000 must be claimed at the Maryland Lottery Claim Centers in Baltimore at Montgomery Park or in Lanham.
Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino said agents regularly make compliance checks at retailers to test the system: 600 in the past year have turned up a dozen violations. Martino pointed out that sting operations are not designed to force the retailer to commit a crime.
"We're not enticing a retailer to steal from the public, you know they make that decision," Martino said, adding with the integrity of the games and the state at stake, investigators test lottery outlets to insure honesty.
"I think that retailers are aware and they're certainly going to be aware after this story airs that this is a program of the Maryland Lottery to make sure that people are acting consistent with the integrity standards that we set forward consistent with the license that they hold."
Stone wasn't the only one who tried to cash in someone else's winning ticket. Lottery officials said that a dozen retailers from Frederick to the Eastern Shore got caught in their sting operation.
"We do that to make sure that relationship between retailers and players is fair and there is integrity in the lottery program. That's why we randomly visit retailers (and) initiate compliance checks based on concerns expressed by players," Martino said.
Nearby business owners in the Dundalk Merrit North Shopping Center said Stone has a good reputation amongst the community and they are shocked by the revelation.
"I always thought Melissa was really good — a really nice person," said Shirley Maddy, of Cake Connection. "I'm surprised because I've had winning lottery tickets from up there. They've never been big, but I've never had a problem with them."
Ross Liquors is still open, but the lottery suspended its license to sell tickets.
Ross Liquors has been serving the Dundalk community since 1982.
Efforts to reach Stone by phone at her place of business and at home were not successful Tuesday.
A judge released her on her own recognizance because this is her first arrest.
The lottery director offered some advice to protect people from fraud: sign the back of your ticket and ask the clerk to return it to you if you want to visit another retailer to double check the outcome.
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Thanks to truesee for the tip.