It took a few weeks and a bit of scandal, but these Bell Canada workers finally got $31 million of their $50 million prize on Valentine’s Day, 2011, in Toronto.
If we’ve learned anything from the ongoing battle between Bell Canada workers for $50 million in lotto payouts, it’s this: even when someone wins, the world’s lottery systems are toxic in the worst way.
Indeed, while $31 million of last month’s $50 million jackpot has been awarded to 19 Bell employees, an additional 11 claimants are trying to weasel their way into a chunk of the winnings. Outrageous? That’s for a judge to decide (a court ruling is pending), but the Bell Canada case is just the latest in a long line of lotto scams to rock the world. Ahead of Friday’s estimated $50 million LOTTO MAX prize, we look back at some of the world’s worst lottery scandals.
‘Triple Six Fix’
Payout: $9.3 million
All lotto scandals, past and present, are measured against the Daily Number scam, a historic rigging of the Pennsylvania Lottery in 1980. As more than six million tuned in, now-deceased TV presenter Nick Perry was on hand to watch three balls drawn for a then-state record $3.5 million. What the viewers didn’t know, as 6/6/6 was drawn as the winning numbers, was that Perry and a group of crooks had rigged the game, weighting the other numbered balls to better predict the outcome. The ruse, which was caught months later and dubbed “Triple Six Fix,” landed Perry in jail for more than two years and was the inspiration for “Lucky Numbers,” the John Travolta- and Lisa Kudrow-starring comedy from 2000.
The eventual jackpot
Payout: $15 million
It took more than seven years and a startlingly comprehensive police investigation, but seven Niagara-area construction workers finally cashed in on their long-awaited Lotto Super 7 jackpot last month. The tale began in December, 2003, when the construction crew bought what they thought was a losing Lotto Super 7 play. What actually happened, police later found, was that the convenience store clerks swapped out the winning ticket once they realized it was a jackpot, claiming it for their own. After more than $10 million in goods (houses, cars and jewelry) was seized from the clerks last year, an investigation traced the grand prize back to the Niagara workers, who collected not only their $12.7 million jackpot but also more than $2 million in accrued interest payments.
A tragic grand prize
Payout: $5.8 million
In a case that ended in misery for most involved, another Ontario convenience store clerk hoodwinked a customer out of his winning ticket in June of 2004, claiming it as his own six months later. Hafiz Malik, then in his late 50s, nabbed the $5.8 million jackpot from Lorraine Teicht, a Toronto woman who played numbers on behalf of three of her colleagues at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. But Teicht’s co-workers, having noticed that their usual numbers had been called for the jackpot, hired a private investigator to look into Teicht, who they suspected of stealing their prize. She wasn’t the culprit, of course, and after police concluded Malik had swiped the ticket, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. awarded the four their $5.8 million jackpot, plus more than $800,000 in accrued interest. Unfortunately, Teicht, who complained of the betrayal in her final years, died just days before Malik’s sentencing (one year in prison) in 2010.
Lotto child cheats
Payout: $174 million
Investigators of an alleged Italian scandal were shocked to find a huge lottery scam underway in Milan, where blindfolded children traditionally select winning lotto numbers. Reports of the con broke in January of 1999 after a lottery organizer admitted to rigging some of the Italian draws by providing marked balls the children could easily select while blindfolded. Though what one of the scammers said began as a simple ruse – officials would also heat up or freeze lottery balls, so the kids could feel what numbers they were supposed to draw – it quickly turned ugly when organized criminals caught wind of the scheme and started making threats for more winnings. At least nine people were arrested in the Milan con, which netted an estimated $174 million in faulty payouts.
The inside man
Payout: $5 million
Hired by a lottery centre in Guangdong Province, a Chinese software-design engineer attempted to scam his way into a jackpot in 2009. In addition to installing a system upgrade, the engineer identified only as “Cheng” falsified entries for five winning tickets – worth about $1 million each. Lottery management soon caught wind of the scam and, after an investigation into the system’s log, concluded Cheng had compromised the multi-million dollar jackpot. He was arrested three days after the draw, and more embarrassing news was to follow: Cheng never actually played the rigged numbers, meaning he wouldn’t have won his prizes, anyway.
’Til death do us part?
Payout: $30.5 million
Despite being the then-largest lotto jackpot in Canadian history, Ray Sobeski’s $30 million prize made headlines for another reason – it kicked off a bitter, five-year battle with his ex for half the winnings. The Woodstock, Ont., man’s Super Lotto 7 win came right near the end of his non-marital relationship with Nynna Ionson, a former stripper he’d met in 1994, setting lawyers off on an investigation into the pair’s romantic timeline which would take many years. Though they were no longer together, Ionson sued Sobeski for 50 per cent of the jackpot, a claim the Ontario man settled out of court in 2009. After nearly half a decade of legal wrangling, the terms of Sobeski’s payout to his ex were never disclosed.
The trials of a ‘lottery crusader’
Though his eventual payout pales in comparison to other winners on this list, a 78-year-old Ontario man became known as a “crusader” against lottery fraud when he had his ticket stolen by a convenience store clerk in 2001. Bob Edmonds, from tiny Coboconk, Ont., took his ticket to a local variety store to get checked in 2001, only to find that it was a loser. The next year, however, the clerk and his wife were arrested for theft and fraud after police found they had hoodwinked Edmonds, who actually won $250,000 on his play. Edmonds campaigned for years before the investigation finally got underway, and it proved to be a landmark moment in Ontario’s fight against crooked lottery agents that were stealing prizes. The senior, who died of cancer two years later, received a settlement of $200,000 from the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation in 2005.
A loophole gets life in prison
Payout: $4.25 million
Lotto crimes are often committed by inside sources, but never has such a harsh penalty been imposed. In 2007, Zhao Liqun, a 37-year-old lottery agent in China, found there was a five minute window after winning numbers were announced that he could still key them onto a playable ticket. So, according to China Daily, Liqun did just this in 2005, “choosing” winning numbers on three tickets that cashed him out more than $4 million in prizes. If the loophole was there for Liqun to take advantage of, then Chinese authorities soon returned the favour. To deter others from future insider lotto scams, Liqun was made an example of two years later and sentenced to life in prison in 2007.
Credit: Jason Buckland