Spanish Lottery ‘Good Samaritan’ Faces Prison for Fraud

Posted on: August 8, 2023, 04:03h. 

Last updated on: August 8, 2023, 06:37h.

An A Coruña, Spain, lottery ticket vendor who made headlines around the world in 2013 for an apparent act of kindness was in fact trying to defraud a €4.7 million (US$5.2 million) winner, Spanish prosecutors say.

Manuel Reija González, Spanish lottery
“Good Samaritan” Manuel Reija González, above, is interviewed by Spanish news after “finding” the $4.7 million lottery ticket. Prosecutors now claim he is the villain of the piece. (Image: Daily Mail)

Eleven years ago, Manuel Reija González was feted as a “good Samaritan.” That’s after he claimed to have found a winning lottery ticket while cleaning out a lost property box and ran it through the scanner at his store. When its value was revealed, Reija set out on a mission to find the true winner, or so he claimed.

I never for a moment thought about keeping it because I wanted to be able to sleep well at night with a clear conscience,” he told the BBC in 2013.

But he was hoodwinking the world’s media in a bid to claim the prize himself, according to prosecutors.

Big Bluff

When presented with the ticket by its rightful owner five months earlier, he told them that the prize was just over €1, which he paid out, according to prosecutors. He then conspired with his brother, who worked for the lottery company, to get his hands on the loot, according to court documents.

Reija was gambling that the real winner wouldn’t be found, in which case, under Spanish law, he would get to keep the money after two years.

As the hunt began, lottery officials kept the exact details secret of when and where the ticket had been purchased, so they could test the claims of those purporting to be the winner. There were 317 claimants, none of whom turned out to be genuine.

Meanwhile, investigators had become suspicious of Reija’s story and resolved to track down the real winner.

Because many people pick the same lottery numbers, week in and week out, and very few people share the same numbers, investigators trawled through lottery records to identify ticket sales that had used the same set of numbers as the winning ticket.

Winner Found

They discovered that the set of numbers was purchased weekly in A Coruña, except around the Christmas and Easter holidays. That’s when the numbers would appear in popular vacation destinations like the Costa del Sol and in Mallorca.

We reached the conclusion that this was someone with plenty of free time who took the Christmas and Easter holidays somewhere warm, probably a senior citizen,” chief inspector José Manuel López told The Guardian.

Investigators then contacted IMSERSO, a state-run agency that organizes vacations for senior citizens, and were able to track down a woman whose movements corresponded with the ticket purchases. They determined the woman was the widow of the real winner, and she will be finally getting the money.

Reija, meanwhile, is looking at six years in prison for fraud and money laundering.