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Connecticut men charged with rigging machines in lottery scheme

Jul 13, 2016, 7:03 pm

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Connecticut Lottery

Investigators uncover more than 20 retailers suspected of cheating

State authorities continue to investigate the rigging of a Connecticut Lottery game they say increased the number of winning tickets and the payout to retailers.

One store, operated by two Wallingford men charged earlier this year, took in over $200,000 in additional prize payouts due to the scheme, authorities say.

Rahul Gandhi and Prakunj Patel, both of 37 Jobs Road, Wallingford, were arrested in March by the state Department of Consumer Protection Gaming Division. Both men are charged with first-degree larceny, first-degree computer crime and rigging. All three charges are felonies. Gandhi is 43, while Patel was born in 1979, according to court records.

Gandhi, who was arrested March 4, appeared in New Haven Superior Court on Wednesday. He has yet to enter a plea. Patel, who also hasn't entered a plea, was charged March 1. Both men have since posted $250,000 bond and are scheduled to appear back in court on Sept. 16.

The charges stem from an investigation into the Five Card Cash lottery game at various retail locations throughout the state. The DCP's Gaming Division began investigating suspicious activity in October 2015, according to an arrest warrant.

(See Connecticut Lottery suspends 5 Card Cash sales after retailers found cheating, Lottery Post, Nov. 13, 2015.)

Also charged in the investigation were Pranav Patel, of 17 Revere Drive, Bloomfield; Vikas Patel, of 44 Windsor Ave., Windsor; Moinnuddin Saiyed, of 11 Freedman Drive, Norwalk; Shaifur Rahman, address unknown; Abul Khan, of 212 Metcalf Road, Tolland; and Sedat Kurutan, of 23 Wild Cherry Drive, Naugatuck.

The DCP has an ongoing investigation into the 5 Card Cash lottery game, said agency spokeswoman Lora Rae Anderson. She didn't comment on whether those charged in the investigation were working together or independently.

"The investigation to date has focused on retailers with the most egregious cashing activity associated with the instant win of 5 Card Cash. The Gaming Division has expanded its research into retailer conduct with this game, and has identified an additional 20 retailers with suspected fraudulent activity," Anderson said in a statement.

According to Gandhi's arrest warrant, Connecticut Lottery Corporation swapped out five terminals at stores throughout the state after identifying the locations as having a higher percentage of winning 5 Card Cash tickets. Lottery officials initially thought there might be an issue with the random number generator component in the terminals, the warrant said. The five stores were located in New Haven, East Hartford, Bethel, Stamford and Danbury.

The 5 Card Cash game involves a customer receiving a ticket with five playing card symbols printed out randomly. There are instant and daily drawing win chances. The rules for a winning ticket follow poker hand rules, such as a full house or royal flush, according to the warrant. The maximum prize for an instant win is $5,555 and the maximum prize for a daily drawing is $255,555. An investigator conducting routine inspections of several locations noticed suspicious stacks of printed Five Card Cash tickets at two locations, the warrant noted.

Investigators discovered if the clerk printing the ticket manipulates the terminal while running a report, they are able to see the symbols that will print out on the next ticket, the warrant said. The clerk can then cancel the transaction for a losing ticket or proceed with the transaction for a winning ticket, the warrant continued. If the transaction is canceled, the warrant added, no record of the losing ticket is logged.

Westville Quality Market on Alden Avenue in New Haven was one of the stores investigated. Prakunj Patel, of Wallingford, is the owner of the store, the warrant said. The investigation showed the terminal in the store was manipulated. An investigator went to the store on Nov. 9, 2015 and met with Gandhi, also of Wallingford, who identified himself as the store manager, the warrant noted. Gandhi initially denied manipulating the machine but later admitted to it after investigators confronted him with evidence, the warrant said.

Gandhi told authorities he discovered the process inadvertently in January 2015. An investigator noticed a pile of 83 5 Card Cash tickets on the counter while speaking to Gandhi, according to the warrant. Gandhi admitted the tickets were produced by manipulating the machine, the warrant stated.

During the investigation, authorities determined at one point there was a streak of nine winning tickets printed at the store. According to the warrant, the statistical chance of having just six winning tickets print in succession is .02 percent, or 1 in 5,395.

Retailers receive a prize payout if a winning ticket is sold. Officials determined the statistical prize payout for retailers in the state and compared it to the prize payout reported at Westville Quality Market. According to the warrant, the store received $216,050 more than it would have without the manipulation.

Authorities compared the percentage of winning tickets at the New Haven store with five other locations throughout the state. The New Haven location has a winning ticket percentage around 60 percent, while the other locations all reported a winning ticket percentage around 24 percent.

The warrant also noted that in December 2014, an instant win ticket for the maximum prize of $5,555 was recorded in the system, and later cashed by Gandhi in March 2015.

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