An unusual trial opened this week at Judge Goerge F. Nunn’s courtroom in the Houston County Superior Court in Warner Robins, Georgia.
A man sued his employer claiming he stole his winning lottery ticket worth $750,000. The winning ticket was purchased in November 2010 in Warner Robins. After state and federal taxes, it's worth about $460,000.
Jose Antonio Cua-Toc, a 27 years old, says his employer, Erick Cervantes, 31, cashed his lottery ticket promising to give him the money. But Cervantes argues that he gave Cua-Toc money just to buy the ticket, among other things like cigarettes.
Cua-Toc acknowledges asking Cervantes to cash the ticket on his behalf as well as agreeing to give him the proceeds. But, Cervantes claims he is the rightful owner of the winning ticket.
The reason: Cua-Toc is an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. As such, he was afraid he couldn’t claim the prize, although he was only required to present the ticket and an identification document.
The Macon.com, a local site from Macon, Georgia, reports that “Jurors are being asked to decide whether Cervantes, who employed Cua-Toc as a day laborer, took advantage of him because he was undocumented, or whether Cua-Toc seized an opportunity to attempt to get money from Cervantes after purchasing a lottery ticket for Cervantes.”
The jurors viewed a security surveillance showing Cua-Toc while checking if the ticket was a legitimate winner, and then hugging and kissing his girlfriend and thanking God for his good luck. They were also told that Cervantes didn’t show up to a meeting at an attorney’s office “to ensure proper legal procedures were followed in claiming the ticket winnings.” That lawyer now represents Cua-Toc.
According to the 13WMAZ TV channel from Macon, the $750,000 jackpot was frozen by the courts until the case is resolved.
Last July, Cua-Toc was arrested while police was investigating what Warner Robins police said were threats he made against Cervantes, his wife and children, and he was charged with “violating probation, terroristic threats, and forgery, according to police reports at the time of his arrest”. He was also issued a voluntary departure order, given time until September to return to Guatemala.
However, he could apply for a special U-Visa, allowing him to stay in the country “if he could prove a crime had been committed against him.” The deportation could be postponed at least until the end of the legal process, said Julio Moreno, Cua-Toc's immigration attorney.
In August, MSNBC interviewed Moreno, who said that there were three witnesses to a conversation between the two men proving his assertions.
He also claimed Cua-Toc didn’t know that he could claim the prize without his immigration status being checked. “ Had he known he could probably go by himself and cash it, but well, he didn’t.”
During the trial Tuesday, jurors heard a friend of Cua-Toc’s testifying that he was the one asked to claim the prize, but that when he arrived at the lottery office, the ticket had been claimed by Cervantes.