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Man again asks Lottery to end his "nightmare"

Peggy Fikac, Houston Chronicle

AUSTIN — Saying he’s living "a dream and a nightmare at the same time," Willis Willis tried again Tuesday to persuade the Texas Lottery Commission to pay him a million-dollar jackpot obtained by an indicted store clerk.

"I’m broke. (I) have no money, no income whatsoever, because I haven’t been working," Willis, 67, his voice quavering, told reporters before he walked into commission headquarters. "This money would mean a lot to me and my daughters as far as the holidays, and I hope I get it."

Commissioners listened as Willis’ lawyer, Randy Howry, presented the argument that Willis should be made whole. Willis, who has been identified by a prosecutor as the rightful owner of money seized from the clerk’s accounts, sat by Howry but did not address the panel.

His case was on the agenda of the commission’s closed-door executive session, but commissioners made no public comment afterward, prompting Howry to say Willis would pursue legal options, which could include a lawsuit.

The store clerk, Pankaj Joshi, was indicted in September on a second-degree felony charge of fraudulently claiming the jackpot and is considered a fugitive. Of $750,000 in jackpot winnings the lottery paid Joshi after taxes, $365,000 has been recovered from U.S. bank accounts, according to law enforcement officials.

Travis County Assistant District Attorney Patricia H. Robertson said Tuesday her office will ask a judge to award the $365,000 to Willis and will continue to look for the rest of the money.

If it is not found, Howry said the Lottery Commission should make up the difference.

Willis and his lawyers earlier this month met with the commission’s general counsel, emerging to say they had been told the commission considers the jackpot winner to be Joshi.

Lottery Commission spokesman Bobby Heith declined comment, saying the agency’s policy is not to discuss pending litigation.

Willis bought the winning Mega Millions ticket May 29 in Grand Prairie, according to Austin police. Willis asked a clerk to check it and two other tickets May 31 and was told he had won $2.

On June 25, the clerk identified as Joshi presented the winning ticket at the lottery commission office in Austin, which validated it. Joshi’s co-workers called the commission after becoming suspicious of him winning the jackpot. The agency investigated and gave its findings to the district attorneys office. Joshi was indicted.

Months later, Willis still is trying to claim his jackpot.

"It’s a dream, and its a nightmare at the same time of being robbed twice," Willis said. "That’s the way I feel."

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