As It Happens

Why this family returned a $1M lottery ticket that was discarded at their store

For one glorious night in March, Abhi Shah was a millionaire. Until he decided to give it away.

'I was a millionaire for at least one night, so I'm happy about that,' says Abhi Shah, who found the ticket

From left to right, Abhi Shah and his parents, Aruna and Maunish. The family runs the Lucky Stop convenience store in Southwick, Mass., where they found a winning $1-million US lottery ticket in the discard pile, and decided to return it to its owner. (Submitted by Abhi Shah )

Story Transcript

For one glorious night in March, Abhi Shah was a millionaire. Then he gave his newfound fortune away.

Shah, whose parents own the Lucky Stop convenience store in Southwick, Mass., was sorting through the shop's discarded lottery tickets when he found a partially scratched Diamond Millions ticket.

It turned out to be a winning $1-million US ticket.

"I was dancing in the store. I was going crazy. I called my mom. I called my dad. I was like, 'We found a million dollars,'" Shah told As It Happens host Carol Off. "I thought the first thing I want to do is I'm going to buy a Tesla, and then I'll decide what to do with the rest of my money."

But once the adrenaline wore off, reality set in. Shah realized he couldn't keep the ticket.

Grandmother knows best 

His family knew which customer had bought the ticket and discarded it by mistake. Lea Rose Fiega is a longtime Lucky Stop customer who regularly buys scratch tickets on her lunch breaks. He knew, deep in his heart, that he had to give the ticket back to her.

Still, it's not easy to let go of $1 million. So he talked it over with his parents and extended family back in India. 

"I talked to my grandmother. She said, 'Just give it back. You know, that's not your money. If it's in your luck, you will get it anyhow. You don't have to take anybody else's money,'" he said.

That sealed the deal for Shah.

"I had a feeling, too, that I should give it back, but after my grandmother told me you should give it back, I was 100 per cent sure that I'm giving the ticket back to the person who it belongs to," he said. 

So he waited at the convenience store to tell Fiega the life-changing news.

Lea Rose Fiega was able to claim her $1 million US lottery prize after the owners of the store where she bought the ticket returned it to her. (Massachusetts State Lottery)

When she didn't show up on her lunch break as usual, Shah went to her place of work and asked her to come back to the store with him.

She seemed nervous at first, he said, and asked if she was in some kind of trouble. 

"I was like, 'No, you're not in trouble. It's good. Don't worry,'" he said. "'Just stop working and just come with me. It will change your life.'"

When Fiega heard the news, Shah says she burst into tears.

"She freaked out. She couldn't believe her eyes. She couldn't believe that there is honest people out there," he said. "She hugged my dad for like five minutes. She was unable to move. She was shivering."

I feel like this is worth more than $1 million.- Abhi Shah

Fiega told The Associated Press on Monday that she'd scratched the ticket in a hurry on her lunch break and didn't realize it was a winner.

She said she survived a near-fatal bout with COVID-19 in January, which already felt like "winning the lottery," so she now feels doubly fortunate.

She said she's extremely grateful to the Shah family and gave them a portion of her winnings, though neither party has disclosed how much. 

"They're great people. I am beyond blessed," she said "I mean, who does that?" 

Shah, meanwhile, is glad he listened to his grandmother and did the right thing.

"I feel like this is worth more than $1 million. You know, even if one person's blessing would touch my soul, that would be the biggest achievement of my life," he said.

"I was a millionaire for at least one night, so I'm happy about that."

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Abhi Shah produced by Katie Geleff. 

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