NEWS

Lottery Commission won’t pay Grand Prairie man $1 million prize

November 3, 2009 | In The News, Randy Howry

By Avi Selk, Dallas Morning News

As if things weren’t confusing enough for a man named Willis Willis.

During a meeting on Monday, the Texas Lottery Commission told the 67-year-old Grand Prairie man that he is not the rightful winner of a $1 million prize – even though its own investigators have told police he bought the winning ticket.

The real winner, the commission said, is the convenience store clerk who was indicted on charges that he cheated Willis out of his ticket in May. The clerk, 25-year-old Pankaj Joshi, is believed to have fled the country.

“I feel like I’ve been stolen from twice,” a crestfallen Willis remarked, according to his lawyers.

“The clerk did it once – now the lottery’s done it again.”

But even as Willis’ attorneys discussed whether they should sue the lottery commission for the prize, the case took another twist.

The Travis County district attorney’s office jumped into the fray Monday evening, saying in no uncertain terms that Willis won the lottery.

“That’s Mr. Willis’ money. He was the true winner,” said Assistant District Attorney Patty Robertson.

And the office promises to put its money where its mouth is – Robertson said $365,000 that has been seized from the store clerk’s bank accounts will be turned over to Willis as soon as the paperwork goes through.

But thats not enough for Willis, whose lawyers claim the commission owes him the full prize, regardless of what Joshi did.

A lottery spokesman wouldn’t comment about anything, citing pending litigation.

“Litigation is not quite pending but distinctly possible,” Willis’ lawyers said.

“We’re looking at all the alternatives we have,” said attorney Randy Howry. “And a lawsuit is certainly one alternative.”

The debacle began in May when, according to police and lottery investigators, Willis unsuspectingly walked into the Lucky Food Store in Grand Prairie with a winning Mega Millions ticket.

Joshi told Willis that his ticket was a loser and later cashed the prize himself.

Joshi has been indicted on a charge of claiming a lottery prize by fraud, but while police search for him, Willis’ lawyers are demanding the commission pay their client the full million – less taxes – right away.

They say the commission was negligent to unquestioningly allow Joshi, one of its own agents, to walk off with the prize.

That argument didn’t fly with the commission.

According to Howry, lottery lawyers said they empathized with the out-of-work maintenance man but that Willis had no recourse with them.

The ticket bearer is the winner, they said. Indicted or otherwise.

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