Fueling Fraud

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Criminals commit fraudulent acts for all sorts of reasons. They may be under financial pressure, need to support an addictive habit or just because they can. A story posted on Syracuse.com tells the story of the widow of a murdered pizzeria owner and an employee who allegedly abused the welfare system through the acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) funds. (The alleged scam may be linked to the theft of welfare benefits from mentally ill patients residing in state facilities.)

The article states that the pizzeria owner’s widow and employee allegedly exchanged unallowable items including cash, beer, cigarettes and prepared foods for EBT card benefits. (Supposedly the two then used the government funds to buy items for themselves or purchase products to resell at the eatery.)

One witness in the case – a state employee at a Syracuse-based psychiatric center – told law enforcement that he stole EBT cards from patients at the facility where he worked, then traded them for cash for half of their value at the pizzeria. (Apparently, he needed the funds to fuel his cocaine habit and buy expensive food items, such as crab legs and steak. If only all food stamp beneficiaries could dine on such high-end food items.) The witness stopped exchanging the stolen benefits at the pizzeria following the murder of the restaurant owner. His confession to police led to the welfare abuse charges of the widow, who is now the pizzeria owner, and her employee.

The 34-year-old widow and her 27-year-old employee are charged with making more than $11,000 in fraudulent purchases over a three-year period of time. If convicted, they face up to seven years in prison for their alleged crime. In a separate case, the witness, who stole $17,000 in benefits, was sentenced to six months in jail and lost his job at the psychiatric center. (Another dozen people involved in the broader benefits theft probe have also been found guilty and sentenced.)

No matter how criminals fuel the desire to commit their fraudulent acts, they tend to forget that there are always consequences to pay when caught. (Fraudsters usually don’t think about that when they initially set out to steal money they don’t deserve.) The outcome of this case is yet to be determined, but for now it appears that any potential abuse against the system, which is intended to help needy deserving beneficiaries, is out of gas.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”Widow of Murdered Syracuse Pizzeria Owner Accused of Welfare Fraud,” written by Douglass Dowty and posted on Syracuse.com on April 9, 2015.

Syracuse, NY — The widow of a murdered Syracuse pizzeria owner was charged today with abusing the welfare system with another employee at Sabatino’s Pizzeria and Deli on Ballantyne Road in Syracuse.

Julia Shqair, 34, and an associate, Haider Alwaeli, 27, both of Syracuse, are accused of making more than $11,000 in fraudulent purchases between 2012 and 2014 as part of the scheme. They were arraigned today in Syracuse City Court.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.