Each retailer violated Florida law, banned from ever selling lottery again
Three Pompano Beach, Florida, stores that sold lottery tickets violated state law and won't ever be allowed to sell tickets again, Florida Lottery officials announced Monday.
Officials said in a news release that the three stores, which were raided this month, also broke lottery rules and the terms of their contract.
The news release did not specify which laws were broken or whether any legal action would be taken against the owners. Lottery Assistant Secretary David Bishop said the lottery would not provide any more details.
At least one owner said he's done nothing wrong, has not been contacted by lottery officials and wants to keep selling lottery tickets.
The three stores, each within a short drive of one another in the same hard-edged Pompano Beach neighborhood, were cited last month in a local investigation.
The investigation revealed that some people might be winning the lottery too often, against astronomical odds. Other states found frequent winners to be store clerks stealing winning tickets from customers, ticket "brokers" who cashed in tickets for people seeking to avoid debts and criminals using the lottery to launder money. (See Florida Lottery announces changes in response to reports of repeat winners, Lottery Post, Apr. 3, 2014.)
One of the stores, the Akel Market at 502 N.W. Sixth St., was the top source of winning tickets for the lottery's most prolific winner.
Louis Tillman Johnson, of Pompano Beach, cashed in 252 lottery tickets worth $600 or more between October 2007 and August 2013. He collected more than $719,000 in winnings. Fifty-three of his tickets were sold at Akel Market.
The other stores, the Georgia Market at 1404 N.W. Sixth Ave. and the Kwik Stop Food Store at 617 Hammondville Road, also were big sources of tickets for Johnson, who said he never actually won.
Johnson, 68, said somebody had been cashing in tickets in his name and sticking him with the tax bill. He said on the day of the April 2 raids, he was visited by police and told not to say anything. He said he did not hear from any lottery or law enforcement official on Monday.
The manager of Georgia Market said he has heard nothing official from the lottery, just rumors.
"They're accusing us of cashing in tickets under the table," Faisal Memen, 33, said after the raid.
He and his employees have done nothing wrong, he said Monday.
"What's unfair is unfair," Memen said. "Hopefully, they'll realize it sooner or later and come to their senses."
He has petitioned them to have the machines reinstalled, since business has dropped 15 percent to 20 percent in their absence, he estimated.
Memen manages the store's day-to-day operations, but it's owned by Tariq Bazian, 27. Bazian owns and manages a check-cashing business inside the store.
Bazian said after the April 2 raid that he thinks the lottery suspects stores acted as brokers, collecting winning tickets to help winners avoid taxes. He said his store employees have done nothing wrong.
"It's a big deal for nothing," he said.
Both men said they didn't know Johnson, who lives in the neighborhood and is a regular at Akel Market.
Lottery officials said the decision to permanently revoke the store's ability to sell lottery tickets was based on interviews and records.
"The integrity of the Florida Lottery is essential. The taxpayers of this state demand it, and so do I," Florida Lottery Secretary Cynthia O'Connell said in a statement. "We expect that each of our retailers abide by the code of integrity outlined in their contract with the lottery. When they don't, our responsibility to our players and this organization is to end our relationship with that retailer."
The lottery said its investigation started in August, but lottery officials did not seize the machines from the stores until after local media published the first story on March 30.
The investigation found that the lottery wasn't following some of the industry's best practices, including asking winners whether they own or work for stores that sell lottery tickets. Six of the 10 most prolific winners were owners or clerks at stores that sold lottery tickets but none worked at the three convenience stores targeted Monday.
Afterward, the lottery announced some changes, which included adopting software to track frequent winners and installing more self-checking machines at its outlets.