Lottery apparently misleads press, public to charge scammers

Posted at: 11/15/2012 4:08 PM
Updated at: 11/15/2012 4:47 PM
By: Bill Lambdin

SCHENECTADY - What lunatic would scratch a $5 million winning lottery ticket in 2006 but not turn it in for the money until March of 2012?

That's what Syracuse brothers Andy and Nayel Ashkar claim.

They were charged on Tuesday with duping the real winner at their parents' convenience store into thinking he had won just $5,000. The man then sold the ticket to the Ashkars.

The Ashkar brothers brought the winning ticket to lottery headquarters in Schenectady in March 2012. But instead of promptly paying the claim and disclosing the winners' names at a news conference of the type we've seen so often, Lottery officials began an investigation. 

Last month they put out a unusually detailed news release that misled a Syracuse newspaper, the Associated Press and other outlets in order to turn up the duped real buyer and further the investigation.

"It's entirely possible that they do not see a wrong in all this," said Paul Conti a College of Saint Rose communications professor and former NewsChannel 13 executive, "that they think that the greater good was served by it, but it isn't. You can't lie to the public when you're in the position of public trust and expect them to reward you with their trust."

No news organization has the time, staff or money to independently verify every claim it receives. A free, fair press depends on government agents telling the truth or at least not deliberately planting misleading stories of the type that the Lottery seems to have fostered.

Our request for comment or an interview with Lottery representatives was ignored.