June 20, 2007
QUEBEC BUREAU CHIEF
MONTREAL–Police in Montreal say they've foiled a bizarre extortion and murder plot apparently aimed at a couple who pocketed a $27 million lottery jackpot last month.
An 18-year-old Mexican citizen was arrested Monday afternoon in a Montreal neighbourhood and arraigned yesterday for conspiracy to abduct, conspiracy to commit murder and other charges.
Edwin Scarlotte Mata Lima, who arrived in Canada four months ago, is alleged to have planned the murder of Zenovij Pacholuk and Dolores Coffey, winners of the second-largest lottery windfall in Quebec history.
According to Montreal police, Lima was planning a home invasion in Pacholuk and Coffey's house in the working-class LaSalle neighbourhood, after which the plan was to force Pacholuk to go to the bank to withdraw large sums of money – possibly as much as $10 million.
Investigators allege he was intending to then kill the couple.
"It's a very unusual case. We've heard of lottery winners getting harassed by people coming to the door and asking for money or donations, but nothing like this," said Const. Olivier Lapointe, a police spokesperson.
Police said they were told Lima was actively trying to buy a gun. They began following the suspect last Friday and decided to arrest him before he could arrange a successful deal.
But police said they don't believe Lima presented himself at the Pacholuk/Coffey residence – which he apparently found in the phone book – and that he never threatened the couple directly.
Lima is not known to have had any brushes with Montreal police, Lapointe added.
The TVA television network, citing police sources, said Lima first began telling friends and acquaintances about his plans in the days after the winnings were awarded.
The network said that while his associates first thought he was joking, one of them was sufficiently scared to go to the authorities.
Police wouldn't say how they uncovered the plot, but did say that when they learned of Lima's alleged intentions, they immediately notified Pacholuk and Coffey.
It turned out the couple were out of town with their 3-year-old daughter.
"We told them it would be a good idea not to sleep at home for a few days," said Lapointe.
Pacholuk and Coffey won $27 million in the May 26 drawing of Lotto 6/49. According to a Loto-Quebec press release from the time, the Ukrainian-born Pacholuk simply said "Okay" when a convenience store clerk told him he'd won the jackpot. He then handed back the winning ticket. He then phoned his wife and asked whether she'd be available to pop by the Loto-Quebec offices because "we've won a bit of money."
At the news conference to proclaim their winnings, the couple said their only immediate plan was to take their daughter to Walt Disney World.
Pacholuk, who like Coffey is an accountant, told the media throng, "We'll talk to the boss and we'll see. I want to take some holidays before making any decisions."
The lottery corporation's website states that "Loto-Quebec reserves the right to publish, for advertising purposes, the names, addresses and photos of winners."
This incident and the subsequent arrest are sure to raise questions concerning the privacy of winners.
Neither Pacholuk nor Coffey could be reached last night.