Crime & Courts

Lottery sting nabs clerks who tried to claim prizes

TOPEKA — Five store clerks accused of trying to steal winnings from the Kansas Lottery have been charged with theft and computer crime, Kansas Attorney General Steve Six said Monday.

The charges were filed in four counties — including Sedgwick — after a sting operation conducted by the Lottery, Six said. In each case, known winning tickets were presented to clerks who claimed the tickets weren't winners.

All the tickets were for prizes of $5,000 or more, which must be claimed at the headquarters in Topeka, said Kansas Lottery executive director Ed Van Petten.

' 'We wanted it to be a sizable amount,'' he said.

Van Petten said Kansas decided to ramp up its efforts after other states, including California, conducted similar investigations and found dishonest clerks.

Two individuals were charged in Sedgwick County and one each in Johnson, Reno and Sherman counties. Each person faces one count of felony theft and computer crime. The Attorney General's Office said a sixth person in Liberal, in Seward County, is under investigation.

' 'This undercover operation was conducted to ensure that Kansans who play the lottery receive the winnings they are due,'' Six said.

Van Petten said 196 of the more than 1,800 lottery outlets statewide were visited by an agent. In each case, the undercover agent presented the ticket to the clerk, expecting to be told he had won a prize. Each transaction was videotaped as part of the investigation.

Lottery terminals have a video screen that displays if a ticket is a winner, and the machine will play a jingle signaling a prize, Van Petten said. The agent stepped back from the counter or acted as though he was shopping and didn't hear the jingle when the ticket was processed.

The clerk in each case that resulted in charges said the tickets weren't winners and kept them at the store, Van Petten said. Later, the clerk contacted the Topeka office to claim the prize.

' 'They usually don't wait too long,'' Van Petten said.

A similar case occurred in recent years when a clerk said a resident's Super Cash ticket wasn't a winner, then tried to claim the prize for more than $200,000, Van Petten said.

Lottery officials said residents should always sign the back of their winning tickets to protect against fraud, as well as check them before presenting them to a retailer.

Those charged, according to a news release from the attorney general, were: Reza Ahmed, 29, Bel Aire, charged in Sedgwick County; Daniel R. Kerr, 26, Wichita, charged in Sedgwick County; Justin N. Bright, 27, Hutchinson, charged in Reno County; Cheryl L. Krentz, 49, Goodland, charged in Sherman County; and Baldhir K. Sood, 52, Shawnee, charged in Johnson County.