Abhi Shah began dancing around his family’s convenience store in Southwick, ecstatic that he had just scratched a lottery ticket with a $1 million prize. His life had changed in an instant, and suddenly a Tesla roared within reach.
“I was a millionaire,” Shah, 30, recalled with a chuckle Tuesday.
Except he hadn’t bought the ticket, and his family knew who had, and two sleepless nights in March now lay in front of him. But Shah soon decided to do the right thing: Return the ticket and its stunning jackpot to one of the family’s regular customers.
“I talked to my grandmother and parents, and we decided to give the ticket back. Money is not everything in life,” Shah said.
Michael Sweeney, executive director of the Massachusetts State Lottery, said the agency is not aware of any similar occurrences for a prize so large.
“We applaud the Shah family for their exemplary demonstration of honesty and customer service,” Sweeney said. “From time to time, we do hear of examples like this for smaller prizes. Less rare, we hear customers tell us that they knew their ticket was a winner, but were pleasantly surprised to learn that their prize was larger than they originally thought.”
The winner, Lea Rose Fiega of Springfield, had thought the $30 ticket was a loser and gave it back to the Shahs, who stashed the Diamond Millions ticket underneath the counter with other returned tickets, some of which would be entered in second-chance drawings.
Ten days later, fate intervened to hand Fiega a fortune.
“I was going through the tickets from the trash, and I found out she didn’t scratch the number,” Shah told WWLP-TV in Springfield. “I scratched the number, and it was $1 million.”
Then, the moral test: What to do with a winning lottery ticket that belongs to somebody else? If they had kept it for themselves, no one would have known. Telephone calls were made to Shah’s grandparents in India. His parents, Maunish and Aruna, offered their thoughts. The decision was made.
Shah said he knew where Fiega worked. So on March 29, he paid her a visit.
“I told her, ‘Do you mind stopping by the store for a second?’ And she said, ‘Am I [in] trouble?’ ” he recalled. “I told her, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to change your life. Just come to the store.’ ”
When Fiega arrived at the Lucky Stop convenience store, the family broke the incredible news.
“She was like, ‘Are you guys joking with me? Please don’t joke with me,’ ” Shah said. “And we said, ‘This is your ticket.’ As soon as she saw the ticket, she freaked out. She started crying. She hugged my dad.”
For selling the winning ticket, the Shahs will receive a $10,000 bonus from the lottery. They’ve already received something else: a disbelieving customer’s lasting gratitude.
For them, doing the right thing took precedence over cashing out the winning ticket.
“Honesty is the best policy,” Shah said. “That’s what matters.”