by Chrissy Zehrbach
After four years of legal wrangling, a decision was reached this fall over the fate of a disputed California Quick Pick Super Lotto ticket that the courts determined was fraudulently redeemed at the Circle K convenience store on the corner of D and 2nd streets in La Verne.
The on-again-off-again lawsuit was brought by a store employee against the owners of the chain, with the courts eventually ruling for the plaintiff.
Arwa Farraj, the employee and plaintiff in the case, purchased a lottery ticket on Christmas Day in 1999 at approximately 3:56 p.m. while working at the store.
When she looked to see if her ticket had won, the machine instructed her to submit it for validation.
Farraj asked store manager Gurinder Ruby for help to determine payoff.
“After plaintiff inserted the subject lotto ticket into the machine, the message on the machine informed the plaintiff that she was a winner, but the machine did not disclose the amount,” the lawsuit said.
The ticket was worth $8 million, but Ruby told her it was only worth $88.
He then gave her that amount in cash and allegedly redeemed the jackpot for himself.
Farraj became suspicious upon learning that Ruby had won the lottery jackpot that same day.
He had never bragged about it or really seemed excited at all, according to Mark Quigley, one of Farraj’s attorney, and that was suspicious.
When Farraj contacted the California State Lottery Commission, it agreed that there was enough doubt to conduct an investigation.
The Commission tracks all transactions and buttons pushed on their ticket machines, and were able to verify and deny facts put forward by both parties in the case.
Ruby had already received his money by that time, however.
He received a lump sum award of $2.5 million – after taxes – from the state lottery office, according to the lawsuit.
Farraj filed her case in February of 2000. The case against Circle K was originally dismissed, Quigley said.
They appealed, however, and the decision was reversed and the case reinstated.
Quigley said it then took about a year and a half from there to prepare the case.
Farraj was represented by Quigley and Browne Greene of the law firm Greene, Broillet, Panish & Wheeler LLP, based in Santa Monica, Calif.
Ruby, Circle K Stores, Tosco Corporation and Tosco Marketing Company – Circle K’s parent corporations – were all named as defendants in the lawsuit for their connection to the case.
“Defendant Gurinder Ruby’s acts and omissions were a foreseeable consequence of his employment and agency, and were an outgrowth of his workplace responsibilities,” the lawsuit said.
The trial took place in September in Pomona.
The lawsuit names nine causes of action including fraud, conversion, emotional distress and negligent hiring.
“The jury was out for the entire day,” Quigley said. “They were out just as long as we expected.”
Most of the evidence used in the case were elements from Farraj and Ruby’s versions of the story that were contradictory.
“Lottery investigators who testified said his answers didn’t add up,” Quigley said. “The lottery records support our version of what happened.”
Ruby was not in the store at the time when the ticket was purchased – as proved by his electronic time sheet.
Also, the surveillance tape was missing those few minutes that the ticket was actually purchased.
“The most compelling evidence was the video tape in the Circle K store for Christmas day at that time was missing,” Quigley said. “Obviously someone erased it and the only two people with access were Gurinder Ruby and his manager, Ed Rodriguez.”
Ruby’s bank records also showed that money had been paid to the store manager.
“His boss covered it up and got paid for it – at least that was the inference,” Quigley said.
Farraj has been awarded $3,982,000 for the value of the ticket and $3,982,000 for emotional distress “in order to make Arwa Farraj whole,” Quigley said.
Those found liable for fraud and conversion were Circle K stores and senior assistant store manager, Gurinder Ruby, the man accused of cashing in the ticket.
“She’s excited, but she has not been paid yet,” Quigley said, mentioning that Circle K is still in the post-trial motions of trying to appeal the decision. “They dispute that they think that’s not in the law, but Circle K is on the hook in their acts for a dishonest employee.”