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.
"Never to this degree have we seen a clerk steal a megaplier winning ticket," assistant district attorney Patty Robertson said Wednesday.
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. A judge set Joshi's bond at $10 million.
The Austin American-Statesman first reported on the charge Wednesday.
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.
"We hope to return the stolen funds back to the victim," Robertson said.
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.
Willis, a regular customer at Lucky's, said he played the lottery two to three times a week using a set batch of numbers. He said he bought $10 worth of Mega Millions megaplier tickets on May 29 for that night's drawing, according to the affidavit.
Willis told investigators he went to the store two days after the drawing to check the results because he hadn't been able to find the winning lottery numbers on television or check them in the newspaper.
Investigators used the lottery transaction system to see if the winning ticket had been scanned and found it was checked on May 31. An inspection of the store's check processing computer found that Willis had cashed a check at the store and purchased lottery tickets two days earlier using set numbers. Willis also produced a lottery play slip showing the winning numbers.
Texas Lottery Commission officials said Wednesday they were investigating the matter. Spokesman Bobby Heith referred questions about the case to the district attorney's office. He said the lottery recommends players sign the back of their tickets when they buy them in case of loss or theft.
Rahman said even though Willis is upset about the missing money, he still buys lottery tickets at Lucky's.
"He still trusts us," he said.