Two best friends who say they threw out a $1 million winning New Jersey lottery ticket, based on outdated information, sued the lotto agency over claims it updated the lucky numbers on its website too slowly.
The men, Salvatore Cambria, 42, and Erik Onyango, 30, who live together in Suffern, New York, should get the cash because they hold two other important slips of paper: the tickets issued just before and just after the winner was purchased at a 7/11 store in nearby Mahwah, New Jersey, on March 23, 2013, their lawyer, Edward Logan, said today.
“They threw in together for a few bucks on the tickets, like people do,” Logan, of Princeton, said in an interview. “There’s no blood or gore or sexiness -- they just lost a million-dollar lottery ticket. It’s a human tragedy.”
The New Jersey Lottery Commission and Governor Chris Christie are named in the lawsuit filed June 24 in federal court in Trenton. The lotto agency that runs the Multi-State Powerball in New Jersey was negligent in failing to update its website fast enough, the men say in the complaint. For the agency to keep the prize amounts to “unjust enrichment,” they said.
Judith Drucker, a spokeswoman for the lottery agency, declined to comment on the litigation. Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for Christie, also declined to comment, directing all questions to the Lottery Commission.
Onyango, a Kenyan who has lived in the U.S. for nine years, said in an interview he purchased the tickets for $14 while picking up a pizza. He said he split them up, as he usually does, giving Cambria what turned out to be the winner and holding on to the other two for safe keeping.
Onyango said he looked up the winning numbers on his mobile phone about 10 minutes after they were announced at 10:59 p.m., while he watched a movie at home on a Saturday night. He read out to Cambria the old winning numbers over the phone, mistakenly thinking they were new, he said.
“I gave him the numbers that were on my iPhone, only to realize later those were the numbers for the last drawing,” Onyango said. The date displayed on the screen “is really small,” which the state should have anticipated since “we do everything on our phones and computers now.”
The ticket they tossed out had five of six correct numbers, but it didn’t pick the Powerball, according to the complaint. That left the men with a “consolation prize” of $1 million, they said.
By the time the men realized their mistake days later, the trash had been taken out and the winning ticket was gone, Onyango said. Onyango still had the two losing tickets, he said.
“The one fellow, Erik, that’s just in his character to hold onto stuff and the other fellow, Salvatore, it’s in his nature to throw stuff away,” said Logan, their lawyer.
Cambria, who has a small business selling cleaning products to mechanics, said in an interview that business has been slow.
The winning money will help, said Onyango, who has a logistics job at a Stryker Corp. orthopedics facility in Mahwah, New Jersey. He said he injured himself last week and is working “off and on” while going to physical therapy. Onyango would split the money with Cambria and open an accounting or tax business, he said.
“You’ve got to be optimistic in life,” Onyango said. “There’s nothing greater than friendship, and having a friend who is there to support you,” he said of Cambria. “He’s like my second family.”
The case is Cambria v. New Jersey Lottery Commission, 3:14-cv-04037, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey (Trenton).
To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org