After Soo Young Bae hit it big with the lottery in the District, he quit his job and headed off to Los Angeles to start a new life there. One problem: He got caught cheating in the DC-4 game, and now he'll need more than good luck to avoid a one-year prison term.

Bae, a former D.C. lottery agent, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court yesterday to stealing thousands of lottery tickets and then cashing in tickets for nearly $300,000 in winnings. Authorities said it was the biggest scam ever committed against the D.C. Lottery.

Prosecutors said Bae owned Montello Wine and Liquor, a Northeast Washington store that sold lottery tickets for years. They said he used the store's electronic lottery terminal to churn out more than $500,000 in DC-4 tickets in October 1997, printing out so many in one week that he had to borrow paper from another agent to keep his machine running. Bae didn't pay for any of the tickets, prosecutors said.

Tickets in the popular game cost 50 cents or $1. Most of Bae's tickets turned out to be losers, and Bae would have lost money had he paid for tickets. But 494 of them produced winnings of $296,153. Over several days, Bae cashed in the winners at 15 stores in the District, prosecutors said.

Lottery officials said they quickly realized something was amiss. The lottery uses an elaborate computer monitoring system that keeps track of the daily activities of about 500 agents, and the records led authorities to Bae and his machine. Clerks at five stores later identified a photograph of Bae and said he was the man who cashed the winning tickets. But Bae was moving as quickly as the investigators, officials said. By the time they zeroed in on him, he had left the area and his store behind, they said.

Bae and his wife, Kum Bae, left their home in Fairfax and headed to Los Angeles, where they opened a laundromat. Lottery security officials and the D.C. inspector general's office tracked him to Los Angeles in October, and he was arrested.

Yesterday, Bae said little in court as Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry Kopel outlined the allegations. As part of his guilty plea to a computer fraud charge, Bae agreed to pay $500,000 in restitution. He made his first $25,000 payment yesterday.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Bae could face 12 months to 18 months in prison when Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson sentences him in March.

Bae, who had been jailed since his arrest, was released pending sentencing.

Defense attorney G. Allen Dale said Bae, 53, has been in poor health and suffering the effects of a stroke, heart attack and diabetes. He said Bae had made no attempt to change his name and had not lived a lavish lifestyle in California. Dale suggested that Bae used the proceeds of the lottery scam to pay old debts, but he said details would emerge later. As part of the plea agreement, Bae was promised that relatives will not be prosecuted in the case.

"He's going to face the music and get on with his life," Dale said. "He just wants to put this behind him, make sure his family is protected and make amends."