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Canada: the case of the unknowing millionaire

Police are searching for someone who has been a millionaire for years, but didn’t know it.

Canada lottery, winning the lottery
Three people are charged with fraudulently collecting a $12.5-million lottery prize seven years ago. Police are now searching for the real millionaire. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

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TORONTO, Canada — As manhunts go, this one is out of the ordinary.

Police are combing a small area of southern Ontario, not far from Niagara Falls, searching for someone who has been a millionaire for years, but didn’t know it.

The case of the unknowing millionaire involves lottery ticket scandals that have been growing in Ontario for the last three years, and are spreading to other Canadian provinces.

The latest twist has police searching in and around two towns on Lake Ontario — Burlington and St. Catharines — for the true winner of a $12.5-million lottery prize seven years ago. Charged with fraudulently collecting the prize are three members of the same family, including two who worked in the convenience store where the duped winner brought the ticket to be validated.

Police say the scam went like this: Someone at the convenience store verified a Super 7 lottery ticket and didn’t tell the customer that he or she had won a free ticket. The free ticket ended up winning a $12.5-million prize. Months later, the store manager’s sister collected the prize.

The store manager, his sister and their 60-year-old father were charged Friday with fraud and money laundering. Their bank accounts have been frozen and possessions they acquired since collecting the prize — including a $2-million home, luxury cars and jewelry — have been seized.

The search is now on for the true winner.

Officials with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., a government-owned agency that runs Ontario’s lotteries and casinos, have named the St. Catharines store where the original ticket was bought and the Burlington store — 38 miles away — where it was validated. They’ve also said the original ticket could have been part of numbers regularly played by a group of people. They’ve withheld other evidence they’ll be using to test the claims of would-be millionaires.

Not surprisingly, police and the lottery agency have been swamped with callers swearing on the graves of their ancestors that they’re the missing millionaires. More than a few are spitting nails at the thought that they were cheated out of seven years of unimaginable ease.

What really makes this story troubling is that it’s far from an isolated incident.

The issue of convenience store workers defrauding lottery customers was given national prominence by an old man named Bob Edmonds. In 2001, when he was 77, a store clerk scammed him out of a $250,000 lottery win. He complained to the lottery agency, bombarded its officials with evidence of the numbers he plays regularly, but was stonewalled. He took the agency to court and agreed to an out-of-court settlement. In 2006, a documentary on CBC TV told Canadians of Edmonds’ David versus Goliath struggle. He died a year later.