A couple of steaks shoplifted at a Gardendale Walmart three months ago led to the biggest food stamp fraud investigation in Jefferson County’s history, and launched 11 simultaneous raids this morning at convenience stores countywide.

Led by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office, teams of law enforcement officers met at 5 a.m. for a briefing and then fanned out across the county beginning at 6:50 a.m. The officers and agents were armed with 242 arrest warrants and plans to arrest 17 suspects.

All 17 suspects were in custody by mid-morning, and investigators already today have filed for forfeiture and condemnation of those 11 stores, which totals more than $1 million in assets.

“This is huge for us,” said Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls.

The massive probe, dubbed Operation T-bone, targeted those they say have been cheating the food stamp system to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars and sending at least some of the profits via wire transfer to Yemen.

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The investigation began in February when Gardendale police arrested a man for shoplifting steaks and some other items at Walmart in that city. When they interviewed the suspect, he said he was boosting the items to give to two convenience stores, and he named the stores, authorities said.

Investigators contacted Walmart’s Global Investigations Unit in an effort to let them know they would like to attempt to sell property represented to be stolen to those stores, but when they told Walmart the nature of their probe, they learned the conglomerate was already investigating those two convenience stores for EBT fraud. Simply put, they learned, the store owners and managers were using EBT cards that did not belong to them to buy goods in bulk to sell at their stores.

Falls said they learned owners of numerous convenience stores in the Birmingham area have been buying EBT cards from those who have been issued the cards for roughly 50 cents on the dollar. In other words, if someone had $150 on their EBT card, the store owners and managers would buy those cards for $75.

The government reloads money onto those EBT cards monthly. Once the store owners and managers bought the cards, they would then go to a wholesaler where they would buy goods and bring them back to their stores to sell at a further inflated price. In return, the person who sold their EBT card now had cash to buy items not allowed to be purchased under the government system, such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs.

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Those arrested in today’s raids are: Jowher Almnasoob, Abdulrahman Alqublani, Ismail Hassan Elnaham, Saleh Yahya Rowaid, Ramzi Jowher Ali Almansoob, Mujahed Jowher Ali Almansoob, Bashir Abosaleh Mohamed, Fouad Zamzami, Muneer Zindani, Sufyan Saleh, Mansoor Almansoob, Audrey Morris, Jerry Brown, Keith Lee Lucas, Travis Wayne Holmes, Murad Nooruddin and Mable Olympia Kirksey.

Perps

They were arrested on charges including public assistance fraud, fraudulent use of a credit card and theft of property, which are felonies. All of those arrested are U.S. citizens, Falls said.

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