Four caught in state lottery fraud sting

LOUISVILLE — Four people were charged Thursday with lottery fraud in a sting designed to catch dishonest retailers, Kentucky officials said.

A Jefferson County grand jury handed down the charges against two people in Louisville and two in Lexington, saying they kept scratch-off tickets worth $8,000 and tried to cash them in for prize money after telling customers the tickets weren't winners.

Kentucky Lottery CEO Arch Gleason said the charges, thought to be a first in the state, were the result of an operation in which an undercover security person presented 33 retailers with a ticket and asked them to check to see if it was a winner. The person at the store said the ticket wasn't a winner, kept it and later tried to cash it in for prize money, Gleason said.

"No money was paid," he said.

Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Stengel said none of the four has been arrested, but they are due in Jefferson Circuit Court on Tuesday morning for arraignment.

Charged were Bhaggy Patel and Hardik Patel at Pantry Fresh in Lexington, Vaishaliben Patel at Hunter's Market in Louisville, and Joanne Wiggins at Meijer Gas in Louisville. Hardik Patel also is charged with providing false information to state lottery investigators.

Stengel said Bhaggy Patel is Hardik Patel's mother, but they are not related to Vaishaliben Patel.

Messages left at each of the three stores were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

Gleason said the stores were targeted because complaint had been made.

He said the charges against the four people aren't indicative of how the majority of the 2,800 lottery retailers operate.

"There are complaints every month," Gleason said, noting that some are the product of computer glitches. "Integrity is the most important asset the lottery possesses."

During the operation, three retailers told the undercover security person that the ticket wasn't a winner and gave it back. Gleason called that a "training issue" that will be addressed with retailers.

Kentucky allows retailers to play lottery games, as do nearly all of the 43 states with similar games, Gleason said. If the owner of a retail outlet is convicted as part of the operation, the Kentucky Lottery will revoke their license to sell lottery products, Gleason said.