Two brothers have been charged with attempted grand larceny and conspiracy after they waited six years then claimed a $5 million lottery scratch-off ticket that they allegedly scammed from a customer at their family's convenience store in Syracuse, N.Y.
Andy Ashkar, 34, still claims that he brought the winning ticket himself in 2006 at his family's store where he also worked. Ashkar had said that he waited six years to split the money with his brother, 36-year-old Nayel, because he worried the cash would negatively affect his engagement to his girlfriend.
"I would have hoped that at some point in the last six years he would be convinced that she did marry him for love," District Attorney William Fitzpatrick said Tuesday.
The two brothers were arrested Tuesday and if convicted Andy Ashkar could face up to 25 years for felony criminal possession and stolen property. Nayel Ashkar could face 15 years for grand larceny and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Fitzpatrick says the real winner is a hard-working, 49-year-old married father of two who authorities are calling John Doe. Lottery officials were suspicious of the brothers from the start because of how much time elapsed before they came forward, according to Fitzpatrick.
Andy Ashkar waited till the very last minute to claim the prize in March. He told lottery officials he would take a lesser amount if they could avoid the usual lottery news conference to announce the winners.
Suspicious lottery officials, in hopes that the real winner would come forward, put out a detailed press release that the brothers won the $5 million prize, Fitzpatrick said.
Authorities knew about the true winner from a Syracuse police officer who picked up information about him on the street, according to The Associated Press.
John Doe had been fooled into giving the ticket to the brothers in October 2006 because he was confused by the number of zeroes on the ticket.
"He wasn't thinking clearly at the time," Fitzpatrick said of winner's initial reading of the ticket. "He says to a buddy he won $5,000. The friend says, `No, I think you won $5 million,' and he says, `No, it couldn't be.'"
Police say that Andy Ashkar, who was behind the counter, told the man that he won $5,000 as opposed to the $5 million, and offered to pay him $4,000 on the spot to avoid taxes and other complications. John Doe took the deal on the spot, according to police.
"For six years he has lived a very pedestrian life struggling and working hard. I would be just thrilled to death - his life just completely changed around," Fitzpatrick said.
Bob Durr, the lawyer for the brothers, said they will plead not guilty.
The John Doe tells authorities that he's always had this nagging feeling that he was cheated by the brothers. He's expected to come forward soon and receive the $5 million prize six years in the making.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.