An Italian store owner who allegedly stole a winning lottery ticket from the customer he sold it to has been arrested at Rome-Fiumicino Airport trying to board a flight to the Canary Islands.
Gaetano Scutellaro, 57, is accused of swiping the €500,000 (US$592,000) winning scratch-off from an unnamed elderly woman at his tobacconist store in the Materdei district of Naples before going on the lam.
According to iNews24.it, last Saturday the unsuspected customer excitedly handed her life-changing ticket to the store clerk to confirm the win, who then showed it to Scutellaro. But the proprietor allegedly grabbed the ticket and ran out of the store, fleeing on a moped.
He was detained at the airport by order of Naples Public Prosecutor’s Office on suspicion of multiple counts of theft and attempted extortion. But Scutellaro did not have the ticket on his person.
‘Feared for My Life’
Police have since traced it to a bank’s safe-deposit box in the town of Latina, around 125 miles from Naples. They’re working on the theory that Scutellaro intended to lay low in the Canaries until the whole thing blew over. Then he would return to claim the prize.
But according to Scutellaro, he himself is the victim in all this. He claims his elderly customer is “a liar” whom he intends to sue for libel.
I decided to leave Naples out of fear for my life,” he confided to iNews24 when reached on the telephone. “I had no idea about the woman’s accusations against me when I was arrested at the airport.”
The tobacconist’s story is that he bought the ticket, pre-scratched, from an acquaintance last Friday. Later, he noticed it was a winner but misread the payout. Thinking it was worth just €500 ($592), he gave it to the elderly lady so she could claim the prize on his behalf.
According to Scutellaro, he could not go in person because the store was not actually his, as had been widely reported. In fact, it belongs to his ex-wife, with whom he is not on good terms.
So he waited outside on his scooter. And when the elderly lady came out to inform him of the ticket’s real value, he decided to take the ticket to a bank two hours drive away for safekeeping. He claims security camera footage from outside the store will back him up.
Meanwhile, he was on the way to the Canaries when he was apprehended because who wouldn’t go on a vacation after winning the lottery?
Whatever the truth of the matter, Italian lottery director Marcello Minenna is determined to stay upbeat.
“When we have retrieved the ticket, it will be my responsibility to return it to the legitimate owner. I am certain this story will have a happy ending.” he insisted in a statement.
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