Salvatore Cambria and Erik Onyango of Suffern, N.Y., said they bought the $1 million-winning ticket for the March 23, 2013, drawing, but threw it away after the New Jersey Lottery Commission did not update the winning numbers after the 11 p.m. drawing. ‘By the time they realized what happened, their money was headed to a garbage dump somewhere in Canada,” an attorney for the pair said.
A million-dollar lottery ticket sold in Mahwah is buried somewhere in a Canadian landfill, say two men who claim they bought it, threw it away and are now suing the Lottery Commission to try to get the money.
Salvatore Cambria and Erick Onyango, of Suffern, N.Y., say they threw the Powerball ticket away because they thought it was a loser after checking the winning numbers on the lottery’s website — which, they claim, hadn’t been updated.
This wasn’t just any Powerball drawing: It was the $338 million jackpot from March 23, 2013, won by Passaic resident Pedro Quezada. Quezada won the grand prize by getting every number right, including the Powerball.
Cambria said his ticket had every correct number except the Powerball, a combination that would have won him the consolation prize of $1 million.
The men say the lottery doesn’t have to take their word on this. News reports at the time of the drawing document that a Mahwah 7-11 sold a $1 million winner that was unclaimed. And Cambria and Onyango believe there is an easy way to prove they had the winner.
The ticket was one of three that Onyango says he purchased that day at the 7-Eleven. He kept the first and third tickets for himself and gave the middle one — the one he says is the winner — to Cambria.
Unlike Cambria, who threw out his ticket as soon as he thought it was a loser, Onyango held on to his two.
And because the three tickets were purchased together, their serial numbers were sequential. The men say they can prove that the winning ticket was theirs because they still have the tickets with serial numbers one above and one below the winning ticket’s.
They explained their situation to the Lottery Commission last year, they said, and were told to submit a claim form along with the first and third tickets.
“They even told me, ‘You don’t need a lawyer, don’t get one. We know you’re in the right,’ ” Cambria said.
But then nothing happened
It’s now been more than a year since the drawing. The men filed their lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Trenton on Tuesday demanding the million-dollar prize and arguing that the lottery was at fault for failing to update its website in a timely way.
In an interview on Wednesday, Cambria said he asked Onyango the night of the drawing to check the lottery’s website for the winning Powerball numbers. This was several minutes after the 11 p.m. drawing, Cambria said. But the numbers that Onyango read, they learned later, were from the previous drawing.
“So I took my ticket, which was worth a million dollars, and I put it in a cigarette pack and put it in the garbage in my bedroom,” Cambria said.
The men say they saw the drawing’s actual numbers the next day and realized that Cambria’s ticket was a winner.
“I was losing my mind. We were both losing our minds,” Cambria said.
By then, the ticket, the cigarette pack and all their other household trash had been hauled to the curb and trucked away, they say. The men called their garbage company and learned that their trash was on its way to a dump in Ontario, Canada.
Their lawyer, Edward Logan, said Wednesday that there was no way the men could have retrieved their ticket.
“There was talk about getting a bloodhound and finding the bag,” Logan said. That idea was eventually abandoned.
The dump has “bulldozers that move the trash around and bury it and get it to cook and digest with the methane,” Logan said. “It was just going to be impossible to find.”
A spokeswoman for the Lottery Commission, Judith Drucker, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
Customers at the Mahwah 7-Eleven that sold the ticket were divided on Wednesday about whether Cambria and Onyango should get the money.
Paul Matthews put the blame on the two men. “They should have known better than to throw away the ticket,” he said.
But Lisa Iriarte said they should get the money “because it’s not their fault the state updated the numbers later.”
Cambria and Onyango said they haven’t given much thought yet about what they will do with the money if they get it.
“That’s the next big question,” said Onyango, who suggested that they would put much of it into savings. “You’ve got to be prudent.”