SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Calling it a bizarre case fraught with inconsistencies, a prosecutor said there was one compelling factor in the charges lodged against two brothers accused of conning a man out of a winning $5 million scratch-off lottery ticket.
Police and lottery officials accuse 35-year-old Andy Ashkar and his older brother, Nayel, of convincing maintenance worker Robert Miles that the ticket he bought in 2006 was worth only $5,000. Authorities say the brothers paid Miles $4,000, took a $1,000 handling fee, then waited until the ticket was about to expire before trying to claim the jackpot in 2012.
"Why did they wait when there were so many other factors out there?" Onondaga County prosecutor Beth Van Doren asked after closing arguments Friday. "Why? It just didn't make sense, other than they were waiting for time to pass so witnesses would no longer be around, documents would be lost, or the statute of limitations would pass."
The brothers were charged with conspiracy, and Andy Ashkar was charged with criminal possession of stolen property. The ticket was purchased at their parents' store in Syracuse.
Earlier Friday, Andy Ashkar testified that he went to his parents' store for lunch on Oct. 27, 2006, and bought the winning ticket, which cost $20, while he was there.
"I scratched it on the customer side of the counter," Ashkar said, then handed it to his father. "He scanned it. He said, 'Shut up!' He didn't want anyone to know."
Ashkar said he planned to go to the lottery office that day, then changed his mind, called his brother and went to his parents' home.
"I was hesitant. I wanted to do it the right way," said Ashkar, who was unemployed and receiving public assistance at the time. "I didn't want it to have a negative impact on my family."
Ashkar, who is of Palestinian descent, said he waited nearly six years because he was worried for his family's safety. Their convenience store is located in what he called a crime-ridden neighborhood.
Defense attorney Robert Durr focused his closing on the credibility of the witnesses called by the prosecution. He said they could have made up the story in the hopes that Miles would pay them.
Before closing arguments, the defense produced federal grand jury testimony from prosecution witness Ramon Rosario in a similar case in which Rosario had taken payment from drug dealers in exchange for his help.
Durr called it "similar to what seems to have gone on here" and reiterated that there still was no proof the winning ticket was ever stolen. Miles testified earlier in the weeklong trial that Andy Ashkar had taken the ticket from him.
"There was no wrongful taking of that ticket. Nobody can place him (Miles) where he scratched the ticket," Durr said. "If he had made a complaint, things could have been done."
Judge Joseph Fahey reserved judgment in the case, which was conducted without a jury after the Ashkars signed a waiver allowing the verdict to come from the bench.