Man wins $10K lottery prize, but state instead claims he owes them money

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A South Florida man thought he’d hit the jackpot, winning thousands of dollars on a Florida Lottery scratch-off ticket.

But when he went to the lottery office to cash in, he was told the state was keeping his winnings and that he owed money.

That man, Joe Cheung, won $10,000 on his lottery ticket.

“I had to take my phone and scan it to make sure it was real,” he said.

A message from the scanned ticket confirmed the winnings. It congratulated him and directed him to the lottery office to claim his cash.

Cheung immediately went to the lottery office in Miami Lakes and handed over his winning ticket, but he left disappointed.

The unemployed mechanic was handed a piece of paper claiming he owed the state money, specifically the Department of Economic Opportunity for unemployment compensation.

Cheung got unemployment assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic and, though no fault of his own, the state told him he was overpaid and had a debt balance of $7,800.

But, like so many, he had applied for and was granted forgiveness and the overpayments were waived, and he had proof.

From December until the beginning of February, Cheung has been trying to get the Department of Economic Opportunity on the phone to straighten it out.

“I called, I left six voicemails, no response, and then the next thing I call again, you hold for four hours and then the line gets cut off,” he said.

Those lottery winnings would mean a lot to Cheung, who said he would use the money to make mortgage and car payments.

Cheung is not alone. TV stations all over the state have highlighted the same story with the same scenario. Lottery winners are flagged at the lottery office and then cannot get ahold of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

According to the Florida Lottery, from January of 2022 to January of 2023, 9,804 lottery winners statewide received a letter claiming they owe money, with a majority of them owing to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“You can’t get a hold of nobody,” Cheung said.

Local 10 News contacted the Department of Economic Opportunity with Cheung’s information and days later, he got a phone call.

“They said there was an error and they said it would take four-to-six weeks to get the check back,” he said. “She said it was an error.”

Cheung’s winnings are now headed his way.

The Department of Economic Opportunity says overpayment procedures like this are in place to mitigate fraud and they say prevention measures have prevented more than $23.2 billion in fraud.

As for Cheung, he’s grateful after almost giving up on his winnings.

“Without you guys, I’m unable to get the money back,” he said. “I really appreciate Channel 10 for helping me out.”

The Department of Economic Opportunity released a statement to Local 10 News which read, in part:

“DEO’s Reemployment Assistance overpayment procedures are in place to mitigate fraud. Overall, DEO’s fraud prevention measures have prevented more than $23.2 billion in fraud. An overpayment occurs when a claimant receives benefits they were not eligible to receive as a result of a variety of factors. To be clear, we realize that just because an overpayment is flagged in an account, it does not mean an overpayment has occurred. In fact, many overpayments occur when an overpayment waiver has not been completed by the claimant. This can be resolved by claimants completing the Overpayment Waiver Request Form in their Reemployment Assistance accounts. Your viewers and readers who have an overpayment on their Reemployment Assistance accounts are encouraged to learn more about how to resolve a Reemployment Assistance overpayment at”

About the Author:

Jeff Weinsier joined Local 10 News in September 1994. He is currently an investigative reporter for Local 10. He is also responsible for the very popular Dirty Dining segments.