A clerk at a Hopkins convenience store is accused of fraud for using validation codes from scratch tickets to cash in the winners before they were sold.
Mourad Zahi, 34, of Hopkins was to be charged in Hennepin County District Court with five felonies including state lottery fraud, gambling cheating and attempted gambling cheating for "micro-scratching" or revealing a tiny portion of the ticket that contains the validation code that determines whether a ticket is a winner.
An extensive investigation by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and Minnesota State Lottery was triggered in early September when a scratch-off player told the lottery that he had a winning ticket for $15 but was told he had already cashed it.
The player said he had not cashed it. Investigators tracked the ticket to Casablanca Market in Hopkins, where they found that a large number of tickets were being manually validated, even though the process has been largely replaced by barcode scanning.
The process consists of using a sharp object such as a razor blade or small knife to remove a microscopic portion of the inks, coatings and sealants on a scratch ticket to reveal the code.
Investigators made undercover scratch ticket purchases from Casablanca Market and repeatedly noted that the micro-scratched tickets had been manually checked in the system. They determined that Zahi was the clerk involved with selling and scratching the tickets.
Zahi, who is not in jail, was scheduled to make his first court appearance Monday.