Police still on the hunt for top prize-winning lottery ticket
By Kate Northrop
NAPLES, Italy — An Italian shopkeeper just narrowly missed escaping the country after he was accused of stealing a winning scratch-off lottery ticket worth €500,000 (US$592,385) from a customer.
The owner of a tobacco store in Naples ran off with a top prize-winning lottery ticket he allegedly swiped from a customer looking to verify the ticket's win, but he claims there is more to the story than meets the eye.
On Friday, an anonymous 69-year-old woman visited a tobacco shop to verify a lifechanging win. She had bought two lottery tickets from the retailer earlier, and after scratching one of them, the lucky woman discovered that she had scooped up a €500,000 top prize.
The winner, who couldn't believe what she was seeing, handed the ticket over to an employee to confirm that it was indeed worth such a huge sum, who in turn gave the ticket to shop owner Gaetano Scutellaro, 57. The employee wanted the owner to give it an additional look, just to be sure.
What happened next led Italian police on a manhunt to find an allegedly stolen lottery ticket worth hundreds of thousands of euros.
Just after being handed the lottery ticket, Scutellaro dashed away on his moped and vanished.
The nameless woman reported the tobacconist for theft moments after the incident took place. The Italian tax office then froze the scratch-off tickets being sold in the tobacco store to prevent anyone from wrongfully cashing in the win.
On Sunday, two days after he disappeared, Scutellaro was stopped by border guards at Rome's Fiumicino Airport right before he was able to board a flight to Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, but he did not have the coveted lottery ticket in his possession. He was arrested by police.
He also claimed that the ticket rightfully belonged to him.
"I bought the ticket from a mate of mine the day before," Scutellaro told inews24. "I only asked the lady to go and collect the winnings, which I thought amounted only to 500 euro. I decided to leave Naples out of fear for my life. I had no idea about the woman's accusations against me when I was arrested at the airport."
Scutellaro explained that the tobacco store is actually owned by his ex-wife, with whom he does not share a good relationship, so he couldn't collect the winnings himself.
He said that the surveillance video camera outside his shop told a different story than what his accuser originally described. According to the tobacconist, he recalled waiting outside the store on his moped. When the woman walked outside, she told him that he needed to take the lottery ticket to a bank and store it in a safe deposit box since it was worth such a large amount.
"I took the scratch card and left," Scutellaro argued. "This was all recorded by the security camera outside the shop."
As of now, Scutellaro remains the primary suspect in the debacle, but he does not have any charges against him since police did not find the missing ticket in his possession. He revealed to authorities that he placed the winning ticket in a bank located in the city of Latina, about a two-hour drive from Naples, and that he opened a new bank account for the winnings to be deposited into.
The investigation is ongoing, but Scutellaro says that he plans on suing the woman for defamation. Depending on how the case progresses, the Customs and Monopoly Agency, which regulates and oversees the lottery and gambling industry in Italy, could revoke his shop's retailer license.
"When we have retrieved the ticket, it will be my responsibility to return it to the legitimate owner," Marcella Minenna, Director of the Customs and Monopoly Agency said on the issue. "I am certain this story will have a happy ending."