A Texas woman has been arrested and charged with stealing more than $500,000 in lottery prize money won by her cousin, who asked her to claim his jackpot scratch-off ticket so he could avoid publicity, according to the Nassau County district attorney’s office.
The woman, Iris Amador Argueta, 32, of Houston, surrendered Monday and was arraigned Tuesday on two felonies: grand larceny of property worth more than $50,000, and possession of a forged instrument.
The forgery charge stems from "paperwork purporting to be from the New York State Lottery, which indicated that the prize amount was only $20,000," the district attorney’s office said in a news release.
"The defendant allegedly also handed the victim an envelope containing $13,436 in cash and told him that the rest of the money was kept for taxes," the release said.
The cousin later found out the payout was actually $1 million from a news release on the lottery’s website.
When confronted, she said there was no more money and threatened what the DA’s news release called "legal consequences."
The ticket was a $5 Hold ’Em Poker scratch-off, bought Oct. 28, 2020, at a 7-Eleven convenience store at 194 Glen St. in Glen Cove, the release said. The winnings were $1 million, but the payout was less due to taxes.
The cousin, whose name wasn’t disclosed, had promised the defendant, who was living in Virginia at the time, a $50,000 cut in exchange for claiming the ticket.
In order to claim lottery proceeds, winners sometimes must agree to have their identity publicized, appear at a news conference, or both.
"The New York Lottery is a government agency and Lottery prizes are public funds, so we owe it to all our players to disclose the names of winners," the lottery website says, adding that the lottery "may defer the determination of a prize claim pending a claimant's participation in a news conference [or] announcement."
In 2018, then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo rejected a bill that would have let winners remain private, the policy in six states.
In the Argueta case, more than $300,000 in stolen funds has since been recovered from her bank account, the news release said.
"This defendant exploited her cousin’s trust, allegedly lying and manipulating him with the aim of pocketing the lion’s share of his $1 million winning lottery ticket for herself," the acting district attorney, Joyce Smith, said in the news release.
Argueta's attorney, identified by Smith spokesman Brendan Brosh as Lauriano Guzman, couldn’t be reached for comment. Brosh said that Judge David Levine freed Argueta on the condition she surrender her passport.
She couldn’t be reached for comment.