‘Operation Smash & Cash’ Stops Lottery Theft Ring In New England

Erik Gibbs

Closeup shot of a police officer handcuffing a tattooed man

There’s never a dull moment when it comes to lottery scams, most of which end poorly for the scammers. In the latest example, Massachusetts authorities have apprehended six individuals implicated in a sophisticated lottery ticket theft ring that spanned across multiple states, specifically targeting stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

The Boston Herald reports that the accused are believed to have orchestrated break-ins at no less than 12 convenience stores, resulting in the theft of approximately $50,000 worth of lottery tickets. The methodical nature of these crimes, often involving the smashing of storefront windows during late-night or early-morning attacks, points to a high level of premeditation and organization within the group.

They were stopped through an operation dubbed “Operation Smash & Cash” by the authorities. It was the culmination of a two-month-long investigation that began after the first reported theft on Feb. 27. Soon after, other convenience stores around the area began making similar claims, and the emerging pattern gave the authorities enough clues to build their case.

It’s likely the thieves wouldn’t have gotten very far with the stolen tickets. Lottery tickets must be activated by the seller before they can be considered valid for winning. Stolen tickets likely wouldn’t be activated, rendering them worthless. In addition, because each ticket carries a serial number, these numbers would be identified on a “hot list” that could trigger alarms when someone tries to cash them in.

121 charges and counting

The accused are facing a significant number of charges. On Wednesday, the individuals appeared in a district court on allegations of evading law enforcement. They were also arraigned on 121 charges in Essex Superior Court the same day.

A still from the security camera during the Salem Variety theft
Security cam footage during the Salem Variety Store theft in Wakefield

The specific charges encompass a range of offenses, according to the Herald. They include felony burglary, theft, theft from a structure, reckless property damage, possession of stolen goods, habitual theft, money laundering, and unauthorized credit card usage.

All of the individuals will return to Superior Court scheduled for May 8 and May 10 to address bail arguments. They’re currently being held without bail until May 30 on fugitive from justice charges.

Ties to organized crime

The individuals charged in this case are suspected of having ties to the Trinitarios gang. This suggests that the operation could possibly be part of a larger network of organized crime.

The Trinitarios are a Dominican American gang founded in 1992 on Rikers Island, according to a 2018 report by The New York Times. They were likely formed for protection against existing gangs and have the dubious distinction of being the first Latino gang to originate in New York City. Their reach has extended beyond the northeastern U.S.; the Trinitarios can be found in the Dominican Republic, Spain, and the U.K..

While drug trafficking is their primary source of income, the Trinitarios are known for resorting to violence. Assault, murder, robbery, and extortion are all part of their alleged repertoire. They are reported to be a well-organized gang with a strict hierarchy, and their willingness to use brutal violence has earned them a place on the radar of law enforcement agencies.

Looking for the easy win

Lottery ticket theft has been a recurring issue, with several notable cases reported in recent years. Earlier this month, a Florida couple was arrested for attempting to claim a $1 million prize with a fraudulent ticket they had pieced together from two different scratch-off tickets.

Sheriff’s detectives in Los Angeles were investigating a string of robberies this month where lottery tickets were stolen from convenience stores. They got a lucky break when they spotted a suspicious car linked to the crimes parked outside a 7-Eleven. After watching the car, they saw the suspects stealing more tickets and were able to arrest them. The group allegedly stole $250,000 in tickets before their arrest, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In some cases, the thefts are inside jobs. This January, police in Pennsylvania arrested Traci Doman after determining that she had stolen multiple lottery tickets in December while working at a convenience store. She allegedly pocketed just over $3,000.

In March of last year, police in Georgia arrested Harish Bhatia for running a similar lottery scam. Lottery Post reported that Bhatia stole more than $127,000 worth of lottery tickets, also while working as an attendant in a convenience store. He received winning tickets from customers and paid them through the cash register, but never ran them through the lottery system. Bhatia then hid the tickets and cashed them at another store.