Hangry for Justice

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18600248 - empty shopping cart abandoned, empty metal grocery cart in a suburban parking lot cars, store buildings in the background horizontal view

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the average cost of food for a family of four including one male adult, one female adult and two children between the ages of 6 and 11, is approximately $1,052.60 per month. Today’s fraudster committed food stamp fraud by bilking the USDA of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that could have fed a family of four on a moderate-cost plan for 1,456 months or more than 121 years. No matter how you divide up the number of SNAP beneficiaries that could have been fed with the $1.5 million this criminal from Baltimore, Maryland stole, he was hungry for fraud and didn’t care who he left starving. (Fortunately, the government was hangry for justice.)

For six years, the Baltimore grocery store owner paid cash to his customers for their SNAP benefits. (It always takes two or more to tango, including the many SNAP benefit recipients that participated in this crime.) As is common with other similar food stamp schemes, the grocer paid half of what the benefits were worth, then cashed them in with the government for 100 percent of the value. (Meanwhile, his bank account grew and grew.)

 The purpose of the SNAP program is to provide low-income individuals with electronic debit cards that can be used to purchase healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables and other approved grocery staples. (Fraudulent food stamp retailers use USDA’s program to get wealthy, and SNAP benefit recipients use the cash they receive in exchange to purchase items that are not approved under the program such as alcohol and cigarettes.)

The 53-year-old Baltimore grocery store owner was sentenced to two years and three months in federal prison for committing food stamp and wire fraud because trading SNAP benefits is an obvious violation of the program rules and regulations. He was ordered to pay $1,532,642 in restitution.

This fraudster was not the only one in the Baltimore-area who tried to defraud the government program. More than a dozen retailers from Glen Burnie to Park Heights were charged with stealing more than $16 million through multiple illegal “food stamp trafficking” schemes. Today’s article states that more than 36 search warrants were executed and 46 bank accounts were seized as part of the crackdown on food stamp fraud. Approximately 12 defendants have pleaded guilty and four were sentenced, resulting in more than $10 million in restitution orders. (Good luck with getting that money back.)

While many fraudsters like this one are hungry to steal from the government and their victims to benefit their bank accounts, criminals usually underestimate the response of an angry government. In this case, the government was hungry to catch the perpetrators and angry that the crime had occurred. (Watch out fraudsters – hell hath no fury like a hangry government eager to stop food stamp fraudsters from stealing from beneficiaries who deserve to be fed.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Baltimore store owner sentenced to 27 months in federal prison in ‘food stamp trafficking’ case,” published by The Baltimore Sun on January 3, 2018.

A 53-year-old Baltimore man was sentenced this week to 27 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in restitution after pleading guilty to food stamp and wire fraud, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Between 2010 and 2016, Kassem Mohammad Hafeed gave cash to customers of his Yemen Grocery, in the 1400 block of W. Lombard St. in Union Square, in exchange for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits, normally paying them half of what the benefits were worth, prosecutors said.

 

 

 

 

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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.