“We had mixed emotions,” Shah told The Washington Post on Monday. “We didn’t sleep for two nights, but I don’t know what happened. My inner soul told me, ‘That’s not right. You know who that person is. You should give that ticket back to them.' And that’s exactly what I did.”
Lea Rose Fiega has been a regular at the store at least since the Shah family bought it five years ago, he said. Fiega, who worked for a nearby insurance company, visits several times a week during her lunch break to buy scratch-offs, handing back the valueless ones, which were piled up on the counter until they were later thrown out.
In March, Fiega bought the $30 ticket from Shah’s mother, Aruna. Ten days later, Shah was going through the stack when he noticed one that wasn’t entirely scratched off.
“I was in a hurry, on lunch break, and just scratched it real quick, and looked at it, and it didn’t look like a winner, so I handed it over to them to throw away,” she told the Associated Press.
Upon realizing the ticket’s value, Shah danced with glee, he said. He imagined what his family might do with the money.
Then, reality set in for him, his mother and Shah’s father, Maunish. They knew the ticket was purchased by Fiega, even though she discarded it. However, if they collected the winnings, she would be none the wiser. They called relatives in India, and Shah’s grandmother confirmed what they felt all along: They should return the ticket.
“She said show honesty and give it back,” Shah said.
On March 29, they waited at their store for Fiega to return. When lunchtime passed without her showing up, Shah drove to her office.
At first, Fiega seemed scared that she might be in trouble, Shah recalled. She asked if she forgot to pay for something.
“No, you’re good,” Shah remembered reassuring her. “It’s something that’s going to change your life.”
Fiega followed Shah to the store, where the family presented her with the winning ticket, scratched off to reveal the million-dollar value. At the news, she began crying, her body shaking.
“It was a really great moment,” Shah said. “Seeing her happy, I got so happy. I knew I did the right thing. I shouldn’t keep anybody’s money. Money is not everything in life.”
Fiega was so grateful for the Shahs’ honesty that she gave them some of the funds she plans to save for her retirement, she told the AP. In addition, the family received $10,000 for selling the ticket, according to the Massachusetts Lottery. Fiega did not respond to requests for comment from The Post on Monday.
The family thinks the store is auspicious, given the number of winning lottery tickets purchased there, Shah said. Though, before that day in March, there had never been a million-dollar winning ticket.
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