Two members of an alleged video lottery scam pleaded not guilty Thursday to altering tickets to steal thousands of dollars from a Box Elder convenience store for more than four months.
Theodore Wright, 64, of Box Elder, allegedly altered video lottery tickets so it looked like they were worth more and cashed them in to Veronica Little and Susie Huebner, who worked at the store in Box Elder and pocketed some of the money for themselves, according to police reports. The scam began June 26 and continued until Nov. 1, the indictment says.
The three are charged with aiding and abetting aggregated grand theft for stealing between $5,000 and $100,000 from Yesway, the indictment says. Yesway recently bought the convenience store from Fresh Start.
Wright is charged with 21 counts of aiding and abetting counterfeit South Dakota lottery tickets; Little, 41, of Rapid City, is charged with 11 counts; and Huebner, 55, of Rapid City, is charged with 10 counts.
On Thursday, Wright and Little entered not guilty pleas during their arraignments at state court in Rapid City. Huebner does not have an arraignment date yet.
If Wright is found guilty and deemed a habitual offender for past grand theft and drug possession convictions, he could be sentenced to up to 25 years for the grant theft charge. Each of his counterfeiting charges would carry a maximum sentence of 10 years. Little could serve up to 15 years in prison for the grand theft charge if she is found guilty and labeled a habitual offender for a past drug possession conviction. Each counterfeiting charge would have a maximum five-year sentence.
Wright and Little, who are out on bond, are set to return for a status hearing at 10 a.m. on Jan. 7.
Duane Peyrot, one of the Box Elder officers who investigated the case, said that he added up all of the altered lottery tickets and determined the trio stole more than $112,000. He said they may have taken more money, but there are no receipts from before June 26, when Yesway took over the business.
Peyrot, who recently joined the Box Elder force after working as a police officer in Wyoming, said that while he's seen lottery theft cases before, this one is "unique."
"I haven't seen one where there was an insider involved," he said of Little and Huebner's alleged roles in the scheme.
The employees were reported to police on Oct. 28 after a co-worker found a cash-out ticket — the receipt to collect money from video lottery machines — with a sticker peeling off, police reports say.
"The whole case blew up" once that employee discovered the altered ticket, Peyrot said. It should be "obvious" to any employee whose job it is to recognize altered or counterfeit lottery tickets that these were fake, he said.
You have free articles remaining.
Employees then found other tickets with stickers on them that changed their value from cents to hundreds of dollars, the police reports say. They also found videos of Little and Huebner pocketing cash and of Wright handing them tickets.
When Little was contacted by police, she said that when Wright handed her a ticket one day, she noticed it was altered, according to police reports. Wright then winked and gave her a $500 tip for the four or five altered tickets she cashed. Huebner reportedly told police that Little introduced her to Wright.
An altered lottery ticket was found on a scanner at Wright's house, the reports say. The ticket was worth 20 cents but had been changed to read $520.15. Police also found fake $100 and $20 bills, glass pipes with residue and a substance that looked like marijuana.
A co-owner of the convenience store told police that they're not sure how the auditor the store uses didn't catch the theft, the reports say.
"That's the million-dollar question," Peyrot said. "That’s a lot of money in a couple of months."
Wade LaRoche, spokesman for the South Dakota Lottery, said he couldn't comment on this specific case. But he said the lottery shares best practices with business owners about how to validate tickets and track income.
It's rare to be charged with counterfeiting lottery tickets in Pennington County, according to data provided by the court's clerk.
Since 2016, two others have been charged with this kind of crime. Both cases remain open.