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Local man wrongly accused of stealing lottery tickets obtains lawyer

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A local young Black man accused of stealing a lottery ticket that he actually bought has gained legal representation. The attorney for 30-year-old Eric Martin spoke about his case Friday.

Martin purchased lottery tickets from the Speedway location on Kenmore Road near Englewood on July 7. Some of those scratch-off tickets were winners, and two days later Martin returned to the location with his family to claim his winnings.

In between his purchase and subsequent visit, the store had been burglarized and lottery tickets were stolen. As Martin attempted to cash in his tickets, a store employee accused him of possessing stolen tickets. Town of Tonawanda Police were called in and Martin was arrested, detained, interrogated, charged and later released.

His attorney, John Feroleto, says Martin was also roughed up during the arrest, though he wouldn't define the extent of his injuries. What also upsets him is that Speedway did investigate and discover Martin had indeed purchased his tickets, but their contact with New York State Lottery officials didn't come until several days after the arrest.

"Mr. Martin was taken out in front of his kids in handcuffs, and his wife, in front of other patrons of the store, and Speedway waited about a week before they checked with the lottery to address this," Feroleto said. "It was pretty reckless on their part."

Feroleto presented a copy of an email from a Speedway district manager who explained that they had reached out to lottery officials on July 14, seven days after Martin's purchase.

A company official shared a message of regret for the incident with WKBW-TV, while also explaining that "our employee was acting upon the information that was available at the time and according to our procedures."

Charley Fisher, a friend of the Martin family, says the 30-year-old has no criminal history, is gainfully employed, married and is the father of two children, and owns his home not far from the store where he purchased the lottery tickets. 

"I'd just like the public to know, he's one of Buffalo's finest. And what happened to him shouldn't have happened. Coming from the fact that this was just a little bit after the George Floyd tragedy, you would think that there'd be some sensitivity," Fisher said. "I'm not here today to do anything but to really lift up Eric Martin, to tell you that he is a great person."

Feroleto, meanwhile, says he remains in communication with Speedway officials. He and his client have not ruled out civil action.

"Of course they're saying they're sorry. It should never have happened. It should have never gotten that far. They should have checked with the lottery before they had him arrested and put down on the ground in their store," he said. "It makes sense that they do some due diligence before they accuse a guy regarding a burglary and having stolen property, a customer of theirs that goes in there routinely."