October 22, 2009 in Nation/World

Clerk accused of stealing $1 million lottery prize

Kelley Shannon Associated Press
 

AUSTIN, Texas – A 25-year-old convenience store clerk pocketed a customer’s $1 million winning lottery ticket, claimed the prize and skipped town, possibly back to his native Nepal, authorities said.

Pankaj Joshi took 67-year-old Willis Willis’ winning Mega Millions Megaplier ticket after Willis asked Joshi in May to check whether any of his numbers were winners, investigators said in a search warrant affidavit last month.

Joshi claimed the prize – about $750,000 after taxes – at the lottery claim center in Austin, had the money wired to a bank account and disappeared, authorities said.

Nick Parveez, Joshi’s former manager at Lucky’s Food Store in Grand Prairie, near Dallas, called the lottery commission in July to voice his suspicions about Joshi after hearing that his store sold a $1 million winning ticket, according to the affidavit.

No one at Lucky’s had ever seen Joshi play the lottery, assistant manager Mike Rahman said.

“He just left,” Rahman said. “We were shocked. We didn’t know he could do anything like this.”

Joshi, who was a student at the University of Texas at Arlington and had worked at the store for five years, was charged in Travis County in September with one count of claiming a lottery prize by fraud. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

Joshi transferred some of the money to various bank accounts after the initial deposit by the lottery, prosecutors said. Authorities have recovered $365,000 from Joshi’s account. It wasn’t clear when the money might be returned to Willis, if it’s proven in court to be his.

Investigators believe Joshi may have returned to Nepal. When he quit his job in June, Joshi said he was returning to the South Asian country to help his cousin with her perfume business, Parveez told investigators.

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