Store owners reunite customer with $1 million lottery ticket she had thrown away
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By Meryl Kornfield
What would you do if you found a million-dollar lottery ticket?
Abhi Shah, who discovered a winning "Diamond Millions" scratch-off lottery ticket while throwing away discarded extras at his family's convenience store in Southwick, Mass., considered buying a Tesla, a house or perhaps another store. But instead the 30-year-old and his parents, who work at the Lucky Stop store, made a different decision: They gave the prize ticket back to the longtime customer who had tossed it, believing it was worthless.
"We had mixed emotions," Shah told The Washington Post on Monday. "We didn't sleep for two nights, but I don't know what happened. My inner soul told me 'that's not right. You know who that person is. You should give that ticket back to them.' And that's exactly what I did."
Lea Rose Fiega has been a regular at the store at least since the Shah family bought it five years ago, he said. Fiega, who worked for a nearby insurance company, frequently visits several times a week during her lunch break to buy scratch-offs, handing back the valueless ones, which were piled up on the counter until they were later thrown out.
In March, she bought the $30 ticket from Shah's mother, Aruna. Ten days later, Shah was going through the stack when he noticed one wasn't entirely scratched off.
"I was in a hurry, on lunch break, and just scratched it real quick, and looked at it, and it didn't look like a winner, so I handed it over to them to throw away," she told the Associated Press.
Upon realizing the ticket's value, Shah danced with glee, he said. He imagined what his family might do with such a fortune.
Then, reality set in for him, his mother and Shah's father, Maunish. They knew the ticket belonged to Fiega, even though she discarded it. However, if they cashed the winnings, she would be none the wiser. They called relatives in India, and Shah's grandmother confirmed what they felt all along: They should return the ticket.
"She said show honesty and give it back," Shah said.
That Monday, on March 29, they waited in their store for Fiega to return. When her lunchtime passed without her showing up, Shah drove to her office.
At first, Fiega seemed to be scared she might be in trouble, Shah recalled. Did she forget to pay for something, she asked.
"No, you're good," Shah remembered reassuring her. "It's something that's going to change your life."
Fiega followed Shah to the store where the family presented her with her rejected ticket, scratched off to reveal the million-dollar value. At the news, she began crying, her body shaking.
"It was a really great moment," Shah said. "Seeing her happy, I got so happy. I knew I did the right thing. I shouldn't keep anybody's money. Money is not everything in life."
Fiega was so grateful for the family's honesty that she gave them some of the funds she plans to save for her retirement, she told AP. In addition, the family received $10,000 for selling the ticket, according to the Massachusetts State Lottery. Fiega did not respond to requests for comment from The Post on Monday.
The family believes their store is auspicious, given the number of successful lottery tickets purchased there in the past, Shah said. Though, before that day in March, they had never sold a million-dollar ticket.