Massachusetts Mystery: Man Claims He Was Conned Out of $4 Million Lottery Ticket

Friday January 31st 2020

A New Bedford, Massachusetts man has filed a lawsuit against two women who he claims cheated him out of a $4 million lottery ticket.

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The man, Joao Luis DaPonte, does not read or speak English, according to a civil lawsuit he filed on January 3 in Bristol Superior Court. He says he believed his scratch ticket was worth $4,000, because the ticket said the prize was "$4MIL" and "mil" means thousand in Portuguese, his native language.

The funds are in an escrow account until a judge decides who is the rightful owner of the prize.

DaPonte purchased the "Gold Rush" scratch ticket for $10 at Cafe Sao Paulo on Bolton Street, New Bedford, on November 23, 2019.

But instead of claiming his prize at a lottery retailer, he approached local woman Maria Oliveira to cash the ticket for him. The lawsuit says that he had heard that Oliveira cashed tickets in exchange for a percentage of the prize.

According to the lawsuit, Oliveira gave DaPonte $3,800. He counted the money and gave her an extra $200 tip. She did not want to take the $200 initially, "but the plaintiff insisted that $200 was the least that he could give her for doing him this favor," court records state.

DaPonte says he put $1,900 in the bank and gave the remainder to his wife "to put away for us."

The lawsuit says that Oliveira then asked Susana Gaspar, her boss at the Goulart Square Bakery in New Bedford, to claim the $4 million prize, which the women would split.

The pair "devised and implemented a scheme" to cheat DaPonte out of his prize, according to court documents. "As part of their scheme, the defendant Oliveira provided the ticket to defendant Gaspar so she could sign the ticket and present it to the Lottery Commission for payment," the lawsuit alleges.

Gaspar did claim the prize, choosing the cash payment option, which was $2.6 million before taxes.

DaPonte was granted a preliminary injunction, and the $1,658,672.80 left after taxes was placed in an interest-bearing escrow account until the owner is determined.

According to the lawsuit, On December 10, DaPonte learned from a friend, Joao Luis Rocha, that Oliveira had bought a $10 "Gold Rush" scratch ticket from Cafe Sao Paulo for Gaspar and it had won $4 million.

DaPonte was surprised that "someone else" had won with the same type of ticket purchased from the same retailer so soon after he won what he believed was $4,000. He showed his friend a photo of his ticket that his wife had taken the same day he bought the ticket.

Rocha told him that he had actually won $4 million, not $4,000.

"At that point, a horrible feeling came over me, that I had been robbed of my winnings," Da Ponte said in court records.

DaPonte then went to a retailer and showed the cashier the photo on his phone. The photo, taken at 11:30 am on November 23 and showing the time and date stamp, is an exhibit in the lawsuit.

"Wow! You're a rich man," the cashier exclaimed.

"I realized that I had been robbed and taken advantage of," Da Ponte said via court documents. "This hurt me so much, and I still feel terrible about this whole situation."

DaPonte's complaint alleges that "The defendants' acts ... constitute knowledgeable assistance contributing to the common tortious plan of depriving the plaintiff of his lottery winnings."

However, attorney Walter P. Faria, who represents the women, said that Oliveira purchased the ticket for Gaspar, who "signed the back of the ticket and turned it in."

Oliveira also claims in her affidavit that she has "never cashed in lottery tickets for anyone" and denies receiving a lottery ticket from DaPonte. She also says she "never gave Mr. DaPonte any money at any time in my life."

The lawsuit says that on December 15, Gaspar, her friend Arnaldo Oliveira, and DaPonte's friend Jose Pires, met to discuss the situation. Pires told DaPonte afterwards that Gaspar claimed that she was "duped" by Maria Oliveira, who told Gaspar she had found the ticket and they could split the prize.

Faria has questioned aspects of DaPonte's story. "Why do you hand it [the ticket] to a stranger?" he asked. "It's hard to imagine someone else (a family member or a friend) didn't recognize it was $4 million, not $4,000."

As for DaPonte's photo of the ticket, Faria said he is not sure if it is authentic or when it was taken.

The circumstances surrounding the lawsuit have become a hot topic of debate in Massachusetts as speculation swirls around the mystery. Some questions being asked include:

  • Why would DaPonte ask Oliveira to cash his ticket, rather than taking it to a lottery retailer? Was he trying to avoid taxes?
  • Why would Oliveira cash the ticket for $200, when she would pay about four times as much in taxes?
  • Was it a crime for Oliveira to cash the ticket if she knew its true value?
  • Can lottery tickets be legally resold in Massachusetts, and was this in fact a sale?

The case is still in the discovery phase and no court date has yet been set.

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