By Austin L. Miller
Ocala, FL: Florida Lottery officials have been working a sting in Marion County this week that so far has resulted in the arrests of three convenience store employees — each of whom is accused of trying to fleece the holders of winning tickets.
The most recent case was Tuesday night, when Pina Patel and Vishnubhai Patel were arrested at the BP Jiffy Food Mart, 3350 SE 52nd St., Ocala. They were taken to the Marion County Jail and booked on charges of grand theft, and solicitation and conspiracy. Both were released early Wednesday after posting $4,000 bonds.
According to the Florida Lottery, Division of Security, a state official pretending to be a customer gave the store clerk — Pina Patel, 43 — a winning ticket valued at $599 and asked Patel to make sure it was valid. The ticket was scanned at the terminal and the machine indicated it was a winner.
The clerk showed the winning ticket to Vishnubhai Patel, 46, who is the store owner. The clerk told the undercover gaming official that the winning ticket was valued at $10 and tried to sell him a $5 scratch-off ticket instead of giving the full amount, an arrest report said. The undercover official declined and instead asked for the $10, which was given to him.
He left the store, and then lottery officials arrived and arrested the pair. The Patels told the state officials the ticket was in the garbage box that held winning and non-winning tickets, according to the arrest report. State officials found the ticket. Pina Patel told state officials that she “made a mistake,” the report noted. Vishnubhai Patel told them he knew the ticket was valid and knew the clerk was going to keep the ticket. He also said he put the winning ticket in the box.
Pina Patel could not be reached for comment. Vishnubhai Patel declined to answer questions.
On Monday, state officials arrested store clerk Ahmed Keshwari at the Maruti Food Mart, 4201 NE Jacksonville Road, on a charge of grand theft.
Authorities said a winning ticket was given to Keshwari, who told a state official posing as a customer that the ticket was not a winner. The official left the store.
State officials returned to the store and arrested Keshwari. They searched him and found the winning ticket — valued at $599 — in his right front pocket, the arrest report said.
Keshwari, 52, was released from jail Tuesday afternoon after posting a $2,000 bond.
Nidia Tew, a spokeswoman at the Florida Lottery, told the Star-Banner that because it is an ongoing investigation she cannot comment about the cases. In general, she said, sometimes the agency gets complaints from customers about stores and, as such, routine investigations not unusual. When investigators do their operations, they act as regular customers, Tew said.
By Austin L. Miller