Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Carmel on the Case: Lottery Check Controversy
Everybody dreams of winning the lottery. But what if you hit the jackpot and the check didn't clear. Well, that's just what happened to one Fort Lauderdale couple. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is "On the Case."
WSVN -- Vinnie and Kay Chirafesi play the "Fantasy Five" lottery game every day. And just before Christmas they hit big. $950 for picking four out of five numbers right.
And just like their granddaughter banks her change, the Chirafesis banked the check for their winnings. But the check was returned.
Kay Chirafesi: "I couldn't believe it and I said oh my god, the money's not there!"
The returned check was marked "unable to locate," and Kay Chirafesi was unable to understand.
Kay Chirafesi: "I didn't understand it to tell you the truth. The Florida lottery? All that money. You can't locate the money for a check you issued me."
Worse yet she had written checks to pay her bills based on the belief the lottery check was as good as gold.
Kay Chirafesi: ''And then when it came back I went "oh my god", if them checks come in, they're gonna bounce."
It turns out "unable to locate" meant the banking information normally found in a series of numbers at the bottom of a check.... was missing. Therefore the bank was unable to locate the account.
Alfred Bea: "When this check left the Florida Lottery it was complete and ready to be cashed."
Spokesman Alfred Bea provided this sample check. There's a perforation at the top. The routing numbers are below the bottom border of the check.
Alfred Bea: "There's no reason that those numbers should have been separated from the rest of the check. It's one solid piece of paper."
And he says this is the first time a lottery check has been returned due to missing account information.
Alfred Bea: "We have never had a check back that was not honored by the bank. We've not had that."
But Kay who is holding a photocopy told us and the lottery office all she did was to remove he check at the perforation which she insists was at the bottom and not at the top of the check.
Kay Chirafesi: "I says we didn't cut it. We didn't take no scissors to no check. Is it torn? I says nooo. All I did was take it off the paper and took it to the bank."
So just how those important numbers got separated from the check remains a mystery. A replacement check has been issued. But the players are still stuck for a $10 fee from their bank for the returned check.
For more information,or if you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or In Broward at 954-921-CLUE