Trial on charge of stealing $3M in lottery ticket winnings set for January

After several weeks of trial testimony ended with a hung jury earlier this month, the Rockland District Attorney’s Office will make a second stab at prosecuting three men on a felony charge of swindling an illegal immigrant out of his $3 million winnings from a scratch-off lottery ticket.

A trial date of Jan. 13 has been set by Rockland County Court Judge William Nelson on a first-degree grand larceny charge against Atif Ali, 29, of Spring Valley, Riaz Khan, 46, and Mubeen Ashraf, 24, both of Monroe. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.

Prosecutors accused the trio of coercing Elfido DeLaRoca, 45, into signing over his ownership of the winning ticket to Ali. They were accused of telling him he couldn’t claim the money because he was illegal and would be deported to his native Guatemala and never see his daughter, 2, again.

DeLaRoca bought the winning scratch-off ticket at A to Z Deli on Hickory Street on Feb. 3, 2011. Khan owns the store, where Ali and Ashraf work. DeLaRoca testified that they took his cell phone so a lottery investigator couldn’t contact him and told him what to tell her during a conversation or they would report him to immigration.

Trial testimony included the investigator saying she told DeLaRoca he wouldn’t be deported. She also said she told him he could keep the money and he didn’t need to allow Ali to sign the ticket and scratch off his name.

Prosecutors also argued that Ali set up a bank account for the first $150,000 payment and obtained close to $400,000 on four advanced payments from a finance company. They said DeLaRoca was never told about the bank accout and received $1,300.

Defense lawyers argued – and a lawyer testified – to the jury that DeLaRoca signed a contract to split the winnings 50-50 with Ali and a second contract to take cash payments. The attorneys argued DeLaRoca was trying to back out of the agreement.

DeLaRoca testified he agreed to give the three men 5 percent for Ali to front as the winning ticket owner.

They said he turned down $40,000 in checks and the lawyer told the jury that DeLaRoca understood what he was signing. DeLaRoca testified he speaks little English and doesn’t read the language.

The winning money and the bank account are frozen by court order.

While prosecutors Anthony Dellicarri and Gary Lee Heavner voiced confidence in their case, Ali’s lawyer,  former Orange County Court Judge Stewart Rosenwasser, said the prosecution’s “case had too many holes” and that’s the message the jurors gave the attorneys after the verdict.

Steve Lieberman

Steve Lieberman joined The Journal News as an editor in February 1984 and became a reporter during the spring of 1986. He has covered police, courts and legal issues for more than a decade, after reporting on county, town, village and state governments and general issues. He received more than a dozen state awards for writing and reporting. Born and raised in The Bronx, he has lived in Rockland since 1988.