Even on vacation, Kecia Parker played the same numbers for the Carolina Cash 5 game: 9-13-16-17-29.
That included a family trip to Carolina Beach in August 2010. When she returned home to Dunn near Fayetteville, Parker swung by the drive-thru at the Pop Mart and handed her lottery ticket to the man behind the window counter.
Sureshbha Patel walked off to scan her ticket, returned and told her it wasn’t a winner. Parker drove away, thinking nothing of it.
Patel had lied. Parker’s ticket was actually worth half of the $179,438 jackpot, which Patel later claimed as his own.
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“The stars lined up for her and he took advantage,” former Dunn police Captain David Register said. The odds of matching all five numbers were 1 in 575,757.
Interviews, news accounts and court records detailed what happened.
In early 2011, half a year after Parker asked him to check her ticket, Patel tried to claim the $89,719 prize. But several things didn’t add up.
For one, Patel couldn’t remember where or when he bought the ticket, Register said. When asked why he waited so long to claim the prize, Patel told investigators his accountant had advised him to wait until the next tax year, according to Register.
How many more people are wondering if (retailers) are cheating me?
Dunn police Captain David Register
As lottery officials’ doubts grew, they worked to find the real winner.
They knew where the ticket was sold. And they analyzed data involving the pattern of usage of the winning numbers. That led them to surveillance pictures of Parker regularly playing those numbers at a Dunn gas station, a local TV station reported.
Patel was arrested in March 2011. A few days later, the lottery announced it awarded Parker the prize. The lottery cited the case as an example where data analysis helped support the games operating fairly.
After taxes, Parker received $61,009, money she planned to use for bills and her children’s college funds. Parker, real estate manager for the city of Fayetteville, expressed gratitude toward the lottery investigators who tracked her down.
Alice Garland, the lottery’s executive director, said it was unusual for retail stores to have drive-thru windows. Not being near the lottery machine meant Parker didn’t notice the chimes or electronic message that denotes a winner.
Patel pleaded guilty to felony attempt to obtain property under false pretense, was fined $2,000 and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service, records show.
For Register, what stands out about the case is how easy it would be for lottery retailers to be dishonest. “How many more people are wondering if (retailers) are cheating me?”
Observer researcher Maria David contributed