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The Journal Gazette

Monday, April 22, 2013 7:12 pm

NY brothers' $5 million lottery theft trial starts

By JOHN KEKISAssociated Press

Two brothers accused of stealing a winning $5 million scratch-off lottery ticket became agitated and angry when questioned about it, and one of them threatened to destroy it, a state lottery official testified Monday.

"I'll rip up this ticket right now," lottery division clerk Joan China quoted Nayel Ashkar as saying during a March 2012 interview.

China testified that Ashkar asked a lottery security investigator if he was accusing him of something.

The trial for Nayel Ashkar, 36, and Andy Ashkar, 34, began Monday in Onondaga County Court after the brothers signed waivers allowing Judge Joseph Fahey to rule from the bench.

Andy Ashkar is accused of stealing the ticket from Robert Miles at The Green Ale Market on Oct. 27, 2006. Prosecutors say Ashkar told Miles, a maintenance worker, the winning ticket was worth $5,000 and paid him $4,000 and kept the other $1,000 for the store, which his father owns.

Nayel Ashkar is accused of conspiring with his brother to try to claim the winnings just before the ticket expired. The jackpot was to be paid out over 20 years, not in a lump sum.

Prosecutor Beth Van Doren, in her opening statement, said the issue wasn't that the defendants waited so long to try to cash it.

"That is a legal right of the rightful owner," Van Doren said. "Robert Miles is the actual owner. Co-workers saw the elation, the devastation of Miles. He lost the ticket when Andy Ashkar snatched it from his hand."

Van Doren said the Ashkars made several conflicting statements to lottery officials and that led to an investigation and a recommendation not to pay the jackpot.

Defense attorney Robert Durr, who is representing Andy Ashkar, called the case one of "common sense" in his opening, saying the court would understand the delay in attempting to cash the ticket.

"There are major inconsistencies in what occurred that day," Durr said. "There is no way possible to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Defense attorney Robert Tisdell, who represents Nayel Ashkar, said there was no evidence his client had committed any crime.

"Where's the proof?" Tisdell asked. "There's not been one witness, one claim, that ties him to the claim."

China, an employee of the lottery division for seven years, said the Ashkars drove to Schenectady to claim the prize instead of doing so at an office in Syracuse. She testified the brothers were expressionless and unable to give a definitive answer as to when the ticket was purchased.

China also said both initially declined to sign the necessary papers to claim the prize, adding that she had never experienced such a subdued reaction from a jackpot winner.

"I had never seen claimants come in that were unhappy. It's a life-changing event," China said. "They weren't excited. Andy wanted to know the process would be safe. He was worried about his parents."

China also testified that Nayel Ashkar asked if they could accept a smaller amount of money to avoid a media event.

The brothers' father, Nayef Ashkar, who was in the courtroom, is charged with conspiracy in the case. The father, who had declined to comment after his arrest, has a separate trial scheduled for September.