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Florida Lottery arrests store employee for organized fraud in alleged cheating scheme

Investigators say clerk was "micro scratching"
Posted: 7:14 PM, Jan 04, 2017
Updated: 2017-01-05 14:56:34-05

Authorities say a local convenience store clerk was cashing in by cheating, while selling customers worthless tickets.

Lottery officials say he got greedy and tried to cash in too many big winning lottery scratch-off tickets at the Tampa Lottery District Office.

One major red flag was when he tried to claim a $500 winning scratch-off ticket that hadn't even been scratched.

For more than a year, lottery officials believe an employee of a Radiant convenience store on North Dale Mabry Highway stole from the lottery and customers.

Emad Faragallah was arrested last night for allegedly "micro scratching" tickets. 

The process involves using a small blade to scratch off part of a lottery ticket, exposing a number that can be read by a lottery terminal to determine if it is a winner.

Records show Faragallah cashed in at least seven winning tickets valued at $1,000 each.

Each had odds of winning of between 1-in-1,153 and 1-in-2,069.

In order to guarantee that many wins through buying tickets, Faragallah would have had to have purchased more than $250,000 worth of tickets in a year-long period.

Police believe he didn’t pay his employer for the winning tickets, but cashed the smaller wins in at the store.

He was required by law to redeem wins of more than $600 at the Florida Lottery District Office.

“Makes people like me not a winner, I guess, because I haven't gotten anything more than five bucks, said Eric Varsalona, who frequently bought scratch-off tickets at the store.

Officials got suspicious when Faragallah tried to cash in a $500 ticket that hadn't yet been scratched, and began an investigation.

A police report says investigators found evidence of micro scratching on other tickets at the store and observed Faragallah on surveillance video  "micro scratching tickets, checking them on the terminal and placing tickets back into the display case to sell to customers."

“He took all that opportunity of that lucky strike completely away from them. That's pretty harsh these days,” said Jeff Zolna, a customer at the store.

The store immediately fired Faragallah and cooperated fully with state lottery investigators.  

“If someone can figure out how to get around the system, it's obviously a flawed system to some extent,” said Varsalona.

 The ABC Action News I-Team has reported for the past three years how lottery retailer won big prizes dozens of times despite tiny odds.

Some had their privileges suspended, but the lottery won't say if micro scratching was involved. 

Lottery officials encourage players to report any suspicious activity immediately, because the sooner it is reported, the easier it is to investigate.

 A lottery spokesperson released the following statement:

The Florida Lottery’s Division of Security was made aware of an incident in which micro scratching was potentially occurring at a Lottery retail location, Radiant 1275, in Tampa. Micro scratching occurs when a small portion of a ticket is scratched off to identify the ticket’s VIRN number. A VIRN number can be used by a retailer to identify a winning ticket.

Maintaining the integrity of our games and the trust of our players is a top priority of the Florida Lottery.  If players notice any suspicious activity involving a Lottery retailer or Lottery purchase, they are encouraged to contact their local law enforcement agency or the Lottery's Division of Security immediately. The earlier suspicious activity is reported, the easier it is to investigate.

The Lottery will continue to take aggressive and meaningful steps to thwart unlawful activity, protect our players and ensure that we are being vigilant in upholding the integrity of our products and games.

Lottery officials say players should make sure tickets come off the roll and they should immediately check them for any markings, no matter how small, since that could be a sign of micro scratching.

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, contact us at adam@abcactionnews.com .