Deli owner left on the hook after lottery theft

DOWNEY – According to co-owner Mark Johnson, business at the Hall of Fame Market and Deli has been steadily improving since the store opened 2 1/2 years ago on Downey Avenue, next to St. George’s Greek Church. But the market’s fortunes took a turn for the worse when two masked burglars broke into the market last month, escaping with cash, computers and thousands of dollars worth of lottery tickets.

The burglary was especially damaging, Johnson says, because he’s on the hook for half the value of the stolen Scratchers – approximately $9,000.

This is despite the fact that the lottery tickets had not been activated, making them essentially worthless, Johnson said.

The ordeal began during the early morning hours of Sept. 18, when surveillance cameras recorded two men cloaked in masks and hoodies smash their way through the market’s front glass doors.

Johnson, who owns and operates the market with Gary Kostrivas, says he received a phone call from his alarm company at 3:30 a.m. By the time he arrived at the store, Downey police officers were already on scene.

Among the items stolen was a safe that contained approximately $18,000 worth of Scratchers, Johnson said. The lottery tickets had not been activated yet, so winning tickets can not be redeemed for cash, Johnson said.

A spokesman for the California Lottery’s Security Division said he “probably couldn’t comment because of the ongoing investigation” and referred questions to the Downey Police Department.

But paperwork provided by the California Lottery to the Hall of Fame Market says retailers can be held responsible for stolen tickets.

The Lottery’s website also says retailers are required to maintain “an up-to-date inventory of your Scratcher tickets.”

“Depending on the accuracy of the information you provide, at the Lottery Director’s discretion you may be reimbursed by the Lottery for some or all of the cost of stolen tickets,” the website says.

Johnson says he was told by lottery officials that he did not maintain proper records, a charge he denies. He also was allegedly docked for not reporting the theft within four hours of the burglary.

“I assumed everything was OK because the tickets weren’t activated,” Johnson said. “And I knew exactly how many lottery tickets were stolen.”

For now, Johnson has stopped sales of lottery tickets in fear of future possible break-ins. He’s contemplating additional security measures, but knows there is nothing he can do to completely safeguard his business.

“We’ve been here for two and a half years, and just starting to gain some traffic, and then this happens,” Johnson said. “We’re just a small business. This really hurts us.

“Right now I’m sending customers to other stores because we’re not selling lotto tickets. That’s what keeps me up at night.”



Published: Oct. 16, 2014 - Volume 13 - Issue 27