A Watertown father and son who were convicted earlier this month for their role in a multi-million dollar state lottery fraud operation moved for a new trial Friday morning, arguing federal prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence to sustain their conviction.
Government lawyers said Ali Jaafar, 63, and Yousef Jaafar, 29, facilitated a “ten-percenting” scheme, where they purchased winning lottery tickets at a discounted price from gamblers all over the state, often using a middleman to facilitate the transaction, to help them avoid taxes and receive tax refunds.
After a five-day trial, a federal jury convicted each man of one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count each of filing a false tax return. Sentencing was set for mid-April 2023.
- Read more: Ali and Yousef Jaafar found guilty for $21 million lottery fraud
Attorney William Cintolo, who is representing the Jaafar duo, asked federal Judge Nathaniel Gorton, who presided over the trial, to acquit the pair on all counts or allow for a new trial.
“The evidence was insufficient to sustain their conviction on any of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt,” Cintolo wrote in court documents. “Specifically, the government failed to prove that either of the defendants’ tax deductions were not legitimate or that the original winners of the ticket sold to avoid reporting the winnings on their tax returns.”
Between 2011 and 2020, according to prosecutors, Ali, Yousef, and another son, Mohamed Jaafar, cashed more than 14,000 lottery tickets and claimed more than $21 million in winnings. Ali Jaafar was the top individual lottery ticket cashier in the state in 2019, Mohamed Jaafar came in third, and Yousef Jaafar placed fourth.
“In total, the three family members received more than $1.2 [million] in tax refunds by claiming other peoples’ lottery tickets as their own and then offsetting those winnings with fake gambling losses on their tax returns,” prosecutors said in a statement.
- Read more: Jury deliberating in trial of Ali Jaafar, Yousef Jaafar, accused of $21 million lottery fraud
A spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins declined to comment Friday morning.
In a statement after the verdict, Rollins said the Jaafars “cheated the system” and took millions of “hard-earned” taxpayers’ dollars.
“This guilty verdict shows that elaborate money laundering schemes and tax frauds will be rooted out and prosecuted,” Rollins said.
But in new court documents, Cintolo argues the government “failed to produce” one person at trial who could back up the central argument prosecutors used to pursue charges of tax fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and money laundering.
“The government failed to produce one gambler at trial to prove that the winning ticket holder sought to avoid their winnings on their tax returns,” Cintolo wrote. “Nor did it introduce documentary evidence consisting of tax returns from gamblers for the relevant period of time showing a failure to report winnings on their tax return or a requirement to even file a tax return.”
Evidence at trial, Cintolo said, instead showed that Ali and Yousef Jaafar reported the money they received from the Massachusetts Lottery Commission on their annual tax returns. Cintolo said it does not matter who reports the winning ticket — the original winner or the Jaafars — so long as taxes are reported.
“Nowhere was there any testimony, and nor could there have been any, that both the original winner and the defendants were required to report the prize money on their tax returns,” Cintolo said.
- Read more: Trial starts for Ali Jaafar, Yousef Jaafar, accused of $21 million lottery fraud
In her closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kristen Kearney said the father-son duo claimed to have won more than thousands of tickets worth millions, agreed to buy those tickets from real winners at a discounted price, and decided not to disclose what they were doing to the state lottery.
“That’s not luck, it’s fraud,” Kearney said. “Three members of the same family, living in the same house, and won thousands of lottery tickets. No one is that lucky.”
One convenience store owner from Roslindale, Lina Ghantous, testified during the trial. During his closing arguments, Cintolo said people who won lottery tickets would sell them to Ghantous, who would then contact Ali Jaafar asking if he wanted to purchase the ticket.
Cintolo said Ghantous would not ask the winner why they were selling the ticket, nor if they had any outstanding debts that the government could deduct from the winnings should they cash it.
At one point, Cintolo said Boston police officer Dana Lamb walked into Ghantous’ store and asked her to cash a $10,000 winning ticket on his behalf.
Ghantous contacted Ali Jaafar, according to Cintolo, asking him what he would pay for the ticket, and did not explain who the original winner was or why they wanted to get rid of the ticket.
“You have been presented with no evidence, none, not a word, and not sentence or syllable that it was improper for Mr. Jaafar to buy a winning ticket,” Cintolo said in his closing arguments.
- Read more: After cashing in 13,000 Massachusetts lottery tickets, father and sons now accused of $21 million fraud
Lamb was separately convicted and sentenced to six months probation in June after he sold a winning lottery ticket worth $10,000 to a convenience store owner for cash, according to Rollins’ office.
In the motion for a new trial, Cintolo said the government failed to provide any evidence that Ali and Yousef Jaafar should have known the winning ticket sellers were looking to avoid a financial obligation.
“Drawing an inference that it would be the only reason for a winner to sell his ticket is tenuous,” he wrote.