Dunn, N.C. — A Dunn convenience store owner faces theft and fraud charges after he allegedly kept a customer's winning lottery ticket for himself, police said Thursday.
Sureshbha Ishvarbhai Patel, 53, the owner of Pop Mart at 415 Spring Branch Road, was charged Tuesday with felony larceny and obtaining property by false pretense.
Police said Kecia Nehring Parker of the Plain View area of Sampson County bought a winning Carolina Cash 5 lottery ticket in Carolina Beach last August and went to Patel's store to cash it. Patel told Parker her ticket didn't win and kept it for himself, according to investigators.
"He pretty much lied to her, told her that she was not a winner," said Lt. David Register of the Dunn Police Department.
On Feb. 8, Patel went to the North Carolina Education Lottery office in Raleigh to claim the $89,719 in winnings from the ticket, police said.
"According to the lottery commission, he held on because his attorney told him to wait till 2011 to cash it in for tax reasons," Register said.
Patel told lottery officials that his wife had bought the winning ticket, but he quickly left when officials said they wanted to investigate his claim.
“They asked him a few other questions. The questions were not adding up to them, and they launched an investigation into it,” Register said. "While telling him that they were thinking about investigating, he said, 'Give it to the children,' turned around and left."
Parker said she always plays the same numbers, and lottery investigators were able to link the ticket to her when they noticed her numbers were played every week at a BP gas station in Dunn.
"I was amazed at how they were able to ascertain everything," she said. "If they wouldn't have done their job as well as they did, none of this would ever have come out in the open."
“She is the rightful owner, and we believe she deserves the money,” lottery spokesman Van Denton said.
Lottery officials urged customers to sign their tickets at the time of purchase and to always watch as retailers scan tickets to determine whether they are winners. Parker said she plans to sign her tickets from now on.
Patel, who was released after posting a $50,000 bond, couldn't be reached Thursday for comment.
Sales of lottery tickets at his store have been suspended indefinitely, and investigators with the state lottery removed lottery machines from the store on Wednesday.