Things That Matter

Undocumented California Man Struggled To Cash In On His $750,000 Lottery Prize Because He Couldn’t Open Bank Account

Imagine having the luck to buy a winning scratch-off lottery ticket – worth $750,000 – but then finding out the banks won’t accept your identity documents and, therefore, won’t cash your big check. Well, that’s exactly what happened to one man in California after buying the winning ticket at a California liquor store last year.

Man who won $750,000 lottery prize nearly lost prize because of his ID.

The man, originally from the Mexican state of Oaxaca, won the $750,000 prize after buying two tickets – one for $5 and the other for $10 – from a liquor store in October last year. Despite the odds of winning that grand prize being 1 in 1,236,000 – the lucky winner hasn’t been able to get his cash prize just yet.

After getting a check for $525,000 (the winning amount after taxes were taken out), the man held onto the check for more than nine months because he was unable to cash it due to lack of a bank account. Banks in California wouldn’t accept his expired Mexican ID and he didn’t have a passport or consular registration, which is needed to open one.

With time running out, it looked like the $525,000 cash prize was going to be forfeited because of his undocumented status. The California Lottery clarified that they do not take into account the immigration status of a winner, but do require, by law, to verify that the prize is given to the correct person. Thankfully, though out of desperation, the man turned to the journalists at Univision’s Los Angeles newsroom for help.

July 30th was the deadline to get the check cashed and the winner was running out of time.

In order to cash a lottery check, he needed a bank account. But no bank would accept his expired foreign ID, meaning the July 30th deadline may come and go forcing him to give up his more than half a million dollars in prize money.

Thanks to help from Univision, the winner turned to officials at the Consulate General of Mexico in Los Angeles for help in obtaining the proper documents. Initially, the consular office told him that the information he had given did not exist and therefore he did not have an appointment.

“It is a complicated process for him,” Sergio Mariscal, social communications officer of the Mexican consular office in Los Angeles, told Univision34 Los Angeles. The consulate explained how they worked to help with the issuance of documents for the winner. Mariscal explained that in this case, they had to contact the civil registry in the man’s hometown and, based on the birth certificates of people who knew him and his original ID documents, they were able to eventually expedite the delivery of his passport and consular registration.

“I’m so grateful to the consulate staff and to Univision for helping me get my passport and cash my check,” the lucky Lotto winner told Univision. He added a recommendation that his fellow “countrymen have their papers in hand and up to date.”

The Lotto prize has changed the man’s life despite the challenges he faced in getting it.

In an interview with Univision, the Lotto winner said that before winning the prize, he was living on the streets of Los Angeles.

“For six months work was scarce and I had been living on the freeway, like a homeless person. I had to value myself and get out of where I was,” he said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the man had been working in construction for more than 20 years – after he left his native Oaxaca in search of a better life in the United States. Now, since receiving his passport and consular registration – and having a U.S. bank account for the first time – he has a more optimistic vision for his future.

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