Feds Allege 12 Stole over $20 Million Trading Food Stamps for Cash

Justice.gov, September 29, 2017

Twelve retail store owners, operators, and clerks, have been charged in connection with schemes to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash.

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The indictments allege that the retailers received more than $20 million in federal payments for transactions in which they did not provide any food, a fraud scheme commonly known as “food stamp trafficking.” Stores and vendors allegedly took illicit profits from the fraudulent transactions with food stamp recipients.  This operation resulted in the largest combined financial fraud loss for a food stamp trafficking takedown in history.

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In 1998, DCF changed the format of SNAP benefits in Florida from a traditional paper coupon system to an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card system.  Recipients use the EBT card, which contains an embedded magnetic strip, to purchase approved food items from participating retailers.  Retailers must apply to and be approved by FNS to participate in the program. Authorized retailers use a point-of-sale (POS) terminal that checks the EBT card information and deducts the cash value of the purchase from the customer’s SNAP benefit balance. SNAP reimbursements are paid to retailers through electronic funds transfers. Retailers bill the government in return for providing approved food items.

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The defendants and/or their co-conspirators/employees swiped the recipient’s EBT card at a POS machine for an inflated amount, and paid the recipient, in cash, a reduced percentage of the value of food stamp benefits charged on the card. The defendants would realize a guaranteed, significant profit from each fraudulent transaction. In most situations, the recipient did not actually receive any food or eligible items in return for their food stamp benefits. As a result of the unlawful cash transactions, the defendants fraudulently obtained more than $20 million dollars in EBT deposits for transactions in which the stores did not provide food.

  1.        United States v. Hasan Saleh, et al., Case No. 17-20653-CR-Moreno

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Between April 2015 and August 2017, Saleh and Alobaisi, together with their employees, Reynold Francois, 38, Ihab Hassouna, 44, Mohammad Alteen, 33, Maria Jerdana, 36, and Joe Ann Baker, 56, redeemed and caused to be redeemed approximately $2 million in EBT food stamp benefits from the FNS.

  1. United States v. Yousef Homedan Zahran, Case No. 17-60241-CR-Ungaro

On September 20, 2017, Yousef Homedan Zahran, a/k/a “Yuousef Hussein,” a/k/a “Joe,” 60, of Pompano Beach, was charged by complaint in connection with a food stamp fraud scheme.

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On multiple occasions between November 3, 2016, and January 11, 2017, Zahran illegally sold food stamp benefits in exchange for cash.

  1.        United States v. Omar Hajje and Jalal Hajyousef, Case No. 17-20622-CR-Gayles

According to the indictment, Omar Hajje, 43, of Miami, and Jalal Hajyousef, 42, of Miami, owned and operated convenience and grocery stores in Miami.

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From July 2014 through the date of the indictment, September 2017, Omar Hajje and Jalal Hajyousef were involved in a fraud and money laundering conspiracy in which they exchanged food stamp benefits for cash and fraudulently redeemed approximately $4.2 million in EBT food stamp benefits.  Hajje and Hajyousef laundered the fraud proceeds through various accounts, by writing cashier’s checks, and by converting EBT funds to cash.

  1.        United States v. Andy Javier Herrera and Javier Herrera, Case No.17-20663-CR-Moore

According to the indictment, Andy Javier Herrera, 24, of Little Havana, owned a small grocery store, Santa Ana Market II, located at 1832 NW 17th Ave., Miami, Florida. Herrera applied for, and obtained, authorization to participate in SNAP.  Javier Herrera, 49, of Coral Way, was a clerk that worked at both Santa Ana Market II, and a nearby convenience store named Santa Ana Market, located at 3000 NW 12th Avenue, Miami, Florida.  Between April 2012 and September 2017, Andy Herrera and Javier Herrera were involved in a scheme in which they exchanged food stamp benefits for cash. During that time, Andy Herrera and Javier Herrera fraudulently redeemed approximately $10,000,000 in EBT food stamp benefits.

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A complaint or an indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

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