Judicial Watch: USDA Dragging its Feet in War on Food Stamp Fraud

Thanks to reader Diana for spotting this news at Judicial Watch which uses the shockingly awful Ohio food stamp fraud bust I reported, here in late January, to say that the feds are taking way too long and the penalties aren’t stiff enough to deter this massive fraud.

judicial-watch-logo

They cite the case of the Ohio father and son who ripped off US taxpayers for nearly $3 million and also polluted a local waterway with “bodily fluids” from an illegal halal slaughter business—a story that everyone should continue to send out on social media (use the JW post this time!).

Food Stamp Fraud on the Rise as Government Allows “Retailer Trafficking”

 

Weeks after a federal audit blasted the government for failing to curb rampant fraud in its multi-billion-dollar food stamp program, two Ohio men have been indicted for operating a $2.7 million scheme that spanned six years. One of the men, 59-year-old Amin Salem, is a convicted felon with a history of food stamp fraud yet the feds took six years to bust him and he remained a qualified food stamp retailer. The other man, Mohamed Salem, is his 32-year-old son and federal prosecutors say they operated a highly lucrative food stamp trafficking ring in the Cleveland area with the help of a buddy named Zahran al-Qadan.

[….]

food stamp fraud

Though this operation sticks out among others, Food stamp fraud has been pervasive for years and the alarming numbers have been well documented by the government. The USDA’s most recent figures show about $1.1 billion in food stamp fraud a year. Nearly 12% of retailers authorized by the government to accept food stamps engage in illegal practices, according to the agency. Judicial Watch has reported extensively on the rampant fraud in the program that costs American taxpayers a bewildering $64 billion annually to provide more than 20 million households with free food. Less than a year ago, nearly 200 people were arrested in Florida for operating a sophisticated ring in which 22,000 fraudulent food stamp transactions totaling $3.7 million were documented by a task force of local and federal authorities. In 2016 the feds busted the largest food stamp fraud operation in history, a $13 million enterprise run by flea market retailers in the largely black and Hispanic areas of south Florida’s Miami-Dade County known as Opa-Locka and Hialeah.

[….]

A USDA division called Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) is responsible for rooting out the type of fraud and corruption that continue plaguing the food stamp program.

“As of November 2018, FNS had not implemented this authority,” according to congressional investigators. “By failing to take timely action to strengthen penalties, FNS has not taken full advantage of an important tool for deterring trafficking.”

 

Go to JW here for the whole story and to follow links for more information.

question markDo you have a suspicious convenience store or small gas nation near you that accepts food stamps?  Keep an eye on their activities.  Some signs of a possible on-going fraud include large numbers of people going in and out every day with few purchases (if any!) when they come out.  Also look for poorly, or nearly bare shelves as a sign that selling groceries is not a priority. 

See this earlier post that includes information about the GAO study.

 

Ohio: Westlake “Man” Indicted in Multi-million Food Stamp Scam Involving Illegal Slaughterhouse

The Westlake “man” (men) who is alleged to have ripped off US taxpayers for $2.7 million is a ‘new American’ from somewhere in the Middle East.

we accept snap
I hate to resort to photos like this one, but unfortunately it is rare to see a photo of the ‘new American’ fraudsters!

 

Of course none of the stories I’ve found mention the nationality (or immigration status) of the man and his son indicted by the US Justice Department yesterday in what may be the most egregious case of fraud I’ve seen in ten years of following these stories!

Rather than summarize the stunning news, here is the first half of the press release from US Attorneys Office of the Northern District of Ohio.  (Emphasis is mine)

A Westlake man with a history of food stamp fraud was indicted on charges that he continued to illegally accept food stamps at seven Cleveland-area gas stations, laundered the profits, illegally had firearms, operated an unregulated slaughterhouse and polluted a stream by dumping animal blood and other fluids into it.

Amin M. Salem, 59, and Mohamed Salem, 32, were both indicted on one count each of conspiracy to launder money and one count of engaging in real estate transactions using laundered funds.

Papa Salem had previous convictions for food stamp fraud!

Amin Salem is additionally charged with one count of making unpermitted discharges into a waterway, one count of distribution of adulterated, misbranded or uninspected meat and one count of being a felon in possession of firearms. That charge stems from Amin Salem having an AR-15 rifle and a Savage 12-gauge shotgun, despite previous convictions for conspiracy to defraud the United States, food stamp fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering.

Mohamed Salem, also of Westlake and Amin’s son, is also charged with trafficking in counterfeit goods for his sale of counterfeit clothing and apparel.

Zahran al-Qadan, 55, of Cleveland, was indicted on one count of conspiracy to launder money.

Prosecutors are seeking to forfeit properties at 43588 Stang Road and 7250 West Ridge Road in Elyria owned by the Salems.

According to the six-count indictment:

Amin Salem secretly owned several area gas stations: Henry’s Marathon at 3106 Fulton Road; Gas Way at 10606 Bellaire Road; Turney Sunoco at 6009 Turney Road in Garfield Heights; Harvard Gas USA at 7020 Harvard Ave.; Bellaire Gas USA at 3934 West 117th Street; Rapid Stop at 1712 East 55th Street and Memphis Shell at 7210 Memphis Ave.

Mohamed Salem managed the gas station’s finances of behalf of his father. The gas stations had terminals to accept and process Electronic Benefits Transaction (EBT) cards as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

Papa Salem was not permitted to own stores due to previous convictions, so Mohamed was running them!

The gas stations and the EBT terminals inside were in the names of Mohamed Salem or another person, since Amin Salem was prohibited from owning stores that processed EBT transactions because of previous convictions for food stamp fraud and related crimes.

The gas station terminals were used by the Salems to process more than $2.7 million in fraudulent SNAP transactions between 2010 and 2016.

The words halal slaughter are absent, but you know what this was all about!
black river
Blood and bodily fluids went in to Ohio’s Black River

Amin Salem slaughtered lambs and goats at his property on Stang Road in 2015 and 2016. He sold the meat, which was not inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

He also caused, without a permit, the discharge of blood and other bodily fluids from the slaughtered animals into Engle Ditch, which flows into the Black River and eventually Lake Erie.

There is actually much more in the US Attorney’s press release (click here).

joe cimperman
Joe Cimperman of Global Cleveland  https://globalcleveland.org/about/staff/

One of yours Joe?

My first thought was to wonder where the ‘Welcoming Cleveland’ propagandists are about this ‘new American’ entrepreneur in their midst! (Westlake is a suburb of Cleveland).

Here is what Global Cleveland wants you to know:

“Immigrants strengthen our community in so many ways, and one of them is by opening businesses,” said Joe Cimperman, president of Global Cleveland, in a written statement. “These businesses do more than create jobs. They add vitality to our neighborhoods and become part of the cultural tapestry that makes Cleveland so special. They reflect our deepest DNA and remind us of the best of ourselves.”

 

question markWhat can you do?  If you live in the Cleveland area send the DOJ press release to Global Cleveland and to everyone you know! If you live elsewhere, this story must get out to social media because the national big media never reports these stories!!!

 

Erie County, Ohio officials: Get your Food Stamp Money ASAP

The Sandusky Register last week urged the 9,000 plus recipients of SNAP (food stamp) benefits to get their cards recharged soon as officials fear that money from the feds could be curtailed due to the shutdown and because many new people might be applying.

However, interesting to me in this story is a section at the end about alerting authorities if you see fraud.

snap fraud signs dc
SNAP Fraud alert posters appeared and disappeared quickly in the Washington. DC metro system last year!

 

You might recall the controversy in Washington, DC last spring when signs went up in the metro system alerting people about how to spot SNAP fraud. The DC government reacted quickly and had them removed “…apologizing to residents for sharing a message that is not a reflection of our values.” (See the story at Breitbart)

Here is a bit of the story from the Sandusky Register,

About 9,300 local recipients at risk of receiving food stamps

Erie County, officials distribute about $1 million monthly to the 9,300 recipients!

SANDUSKY — An ongoing partial federal government shutdown could open up a possibility in which thousands of Erie County residents won’t receive a monthly payment to purchase food.

Erie County Job and Family Services workers on Monday issued an alert to the 9,300 active Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program local recipients about obtaining their February benefits as soon as Wednesday, two weeks earlier than normal. Officials and recipients often shorten the phrase to “SNAP,” referred to by others as “food stamps.”

Agencies nationwide want to release February’s SNAP benefits ahead of time so recipients can best prepare themselves and their dependents.

But why is this happening?

In short, only enough money exists to provide these users — many of which are guardians or custodians with multiple children and senior citizens on fixed incomes — their normal financial allotment placed on Electronic Benefit Transfer cards through February.

But, after that, there’s no guarantee the U.S. Department of Agriculture can keep funding this program, leaving agencies, such as Erie County Job and Family Services, hamstrung in helping out people. The shutdown has significantly scaled back department operations. Many of its workers, for instance, aren’t getting paid, and various services overseen by the department have been reduced or altogether stopped.

 

But then much to my surprise the article goes in to a discussion about SNAP fraud:

Figuring out food stamp fraud

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , or SNAP, benefits can only be used for food and for plants and seeds to grow food for your household to eat. SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy:

• Any nonfood item, such as pet food; soaps, paper products, and household supplies; grooming items, toothpaste, and cosmetics

• Alcoholic beverages and tobacco

• Vitamins and medicines

• Any food that will be eaten in the store

• Hot foods

“If people see abuse, report it to us, and we will investigate if that person’s benefits are being sold or abused,” said Vicki Bayer, Erie County Job and Family Services’ deputy director of community services.

 

Of course the “sold” part refers to the massive fraud of trafficking in food stamps.

New GAO study!

A new GAO study was released last week outlining the amount of fraud and what the government needs to do to stop it.

If you don’t know how trafficking works they have a cool graphic to show you.

screenshot (842)

A summary begins with this:

Millions of households rely on the $64 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to buy food. But some stores are defrauding the program by “selling” cash instead of food. For example, a store might give a person $50 in exchange for $100 in benefits—then pocket the difference.

How widespread is this “retailer trafficking”? The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) reports that $1 billion in benefits are trafficked annually. However, the real extent is uncertain and could be anywhere from $960 million to $4.7 billion.

 

question mark
Looking for something to do? Anyone who has been suspicious about a small grocery store, a gas station, or convenience store near you, should take the time to see what the GAO says and then consider turning the store in for investigation. 

 

Endnote: As I build this website, I’ll be developing categories for your future reference. See my Food Stamp fraud category by clicking here.

For a more extensive catalog of Food Stamp fraud stories visit RRW, here.

Worcester “Man” Admits Guilt in Identity Theft Scheme at Crooked Convenience Store

visa fraud

I sometimes think the media, which you might assume would want titillating headlines, downplays stories like this so people won’t bother reading it!

Of course the headline isn’t going to say “illegal from Ghana” admits guilt! 

Here is the Worcester Telegram headline and story,

Worcester store employee admits to identity theft

WORCESTER – A Worcester man who worked at a city store whose owner was jailed for $3.6 million in food stamp fraud admitted Tuesday to stealing people’s identities.

Yaw Okyere, 36, a citizen of Ghana who overstayed a student visa in 2009, pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of possessing five or more identification documents.

Mr. Okyere was arrested last year after authorities said they found evidence of identity theft and dozens of boxes of pricey merchandise in his apartment.

He had nearly 200 state driver’s licenses in files on his computer, authorities said, and apparently used other people’s identities to order goods through the mail.

 

screenshot (833)
Why is this store still open? Owner found guilty in 2016 of $3.6 million in food stamp fraud, the largest bust in Massachusetts’ history.  She was sentenced to one year in the slammer. https://www.telegram.com/news/20160711/worcester-woman-behind-36m-food-stamp-fraud-gets-year-in-jail

 

Authorities allege in court documents that Mr. Okyere had intermediaries bring the ill-gotten goods to his day job at J&W Aseda Plaza, the same Worcester store where $3.6 million in food stamp fraud was perpetrated several years ago.

Mr. Okyere is described in court documents as a relative of the store owner, Vida Causey, who was sentenced to a year in jail. He told authorities who raided his home she was his aunt.

The charges Mr. Okyere faces carry combined maximum penalties of up to 17 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. He also faces possible deportation.

What! Possible deportation! Possible deportation! Deport him now and save the taxpayers the cost of keeping him in prison!

More here.

I couldn’t find a photo of the Ghana illegal alien man, but wondered if that might be him standing outside of his aunt’s business!

question mark

What can you do?
This is one more story that should be reported in the mainstream media so Americans would have a better idea of the kinds of frauds to watch for and the kinds of fraudsters that are out there. Best thing you can do is to send this story out to your social media networks. Be sure to mention the student visa fraud!

 

Cleveland: Suit against Catholic Charities in boy’s shocking death

A social worker, employed through a contract with Catholic Charities of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland was supposed to be checking on and protecting the nine children in the Rodriguez home, but instead she had cooked up a deal with the children’s mother to obtain the family’s food stamps.

catholic charities diocese of cleveland

In exchange she allegedly turned a blind eye to abuse and deplorable living conditions that resulted in the death of a five-year-old boy whose body was buried in the back yard.

The case became known to the police when someone called from PAKISTAN with a tip!  WTH!

This is the latest news from Cleveland.com:

Estate of Cleveland boy found buried in back yard sues Catholic Charities

 

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The estate of a 5-year-old Cleveland boy whose body was found in late 2017 buried behind his mother’s house has filed a lawsuit against the social services arm of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland that employed the worker who was supposed to keep tabs on the family.

The survivorship of Jordan Rodriguez filed the wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court against Catholic Charities, its employee Nancy Caraballo, the boy’s mother Larissa Rodriguez and her boyfriend Christopher Rodriguez.

nancy caraballo
Nancy Caraballo

The suit accuses Catholic Charities and Caraballo of recklessness, negligence and failing to report abuse the boy suffered in the two years leading up to his death. The estate, administrated by Michelle Rodriguez, seeks to take the case before a jury.

“While we cannot at this time comment on what is alleged in the lawsuit, Catholic Charities protects and advocates for those who are most vulnerable,” the statement said. “All employees undergo thorough background checks and extensive training with regard to ethics and specifically their duties to report child abuse or neglect.”

Jordan’s body was discovered buried in the family’s backyard in December 2017, after Cleveland police received a call from Pakistan that said Christopher Rodriguez confessed to burying the child.

Investigators responding to the call found the home in deplorable condition, and it wasn’t long before they uncovered that Caraballo, a parent educator at an agency contracted with Catholic Charities who was assigned to the Rodriguez family, had been buying Larissa Rodriguez’s food stamps at discounted prices and lying in her reports of her visits.

Caraballo was supposed to conduct monthly home visits to check on Rodriguez’s children and living conditions and file a report each time. But investigators subpoenaed her cellphone records and compared text messages between Caraballo and Rodriguez to the reports and found that, on at least 12 occasions, Caraballo simply showed up to Rodriguez’s house to pick up the food stamp card. She filed false reports that said she inspected the home.

More here.

The case will make you sick!

In February Caraballo plead not guilty here.

Then here in April she was sentenced to 3 years for the food stamp fraud.

And, now get this, she reformed in jail and was out in six months, here.

question markAs is usual there is no mention of the immigration status of either Caraballo or the Rodriquez duo.
But I am interested in why a call to police came from Pakistan. Were there Pakistani convenience store proprietors in on the food stamp fraud?

 

Arkansas Food Stamp Fraud Bust Reveals Some Clever Twists on the Common Scam

You probably saw this news last month.  I know I saw it in several places because more news outlets have come to discover this type of fraud usually involving convenience stores and those Mom & Pop gas stations with the small grocery attached.

(Last year CNS News published a very useful report about how most SNAP fraud occurs in small grocery stores/convenience stores.***)

we accept snap
Last summer USA Today published the top 25 Food Stamp use cities in America. Some will surprise you! Have a look:  https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/economy/2018/07/25/snap-benefits-cities-with-most-people-on-food-stamps/37017367/

I suspect the prevalence of “new Americans” behind the counters of these small stores has something to do with the E-2 investor visa our government gives out regularly to foreign ‘investors.’

See the list of countries from which we are importing new American businessmen.

With an investment sometimes less than $100,000 a Pakistani, for instance, can buy a small store with the help of US lawyers who walk them through the process of getting in here with an investor visa.

Seriously search E-2 investor visa and you will find pages of law firms advertising their prowess in getting immigrants set up in business.

But many of the new American entrepreneurs aren’t willing to wait to build up their enterprises the old fashioned way, they have become experts at ripping off the US taxpayer—like these crooks who plead guilty in Arkansas last month.

From the Arkansas Democrat Gazette,

3 guilty pleas entered to food-stamp fraud in Arkansas

 

Raja Khani Zaman and his son Haroon pleaded guilty Wednesday before Western Arkansas Chief U.S. District Judge P.K. Holmes III to conspiracy to traffic in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [food stamps] benefits, conspiracy to commit money laundering and filing false income-tax returns.

Another man, Ahmed Zaman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to traffic in food-stamp program benefits.

After the plea hearings, all three were released on $5,000 signature bonds. Sentencing will follow completion of a presentence investigation.

They face up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 on the food-stamp trafficking charge, 20 years and a fine up to $500,000 on the money-laundering charge, and up to three years and a fine up to $100,000 on the tax-return charge.

More complex tricks! 

Rather than the usual method of simply buying benefits from a customer desperate for cash at the going rate of 50 cents on the dollar, the Zamans used a variety of schemes to turn your money in to their money.

The plea agreements listed multiple ways in which the men violated the food-stamp program. They would allow beneficiaries to use their food-stamp cards to buy items prohibited under the program at twice the price of the items.

They would take beneficiaries, or send them, to other stores to use their cards to purchase items for resale in the Zamans’ convenience stores, then pay the recipients 50 cents cash for every dollar they spent.

The government said the Zamans committed money laundering by reselling products in their convenience stores that were purchased elsewhere for them by cooperating food-stamp recipients, according to court records.

Continue reading here.

Just so you know the person selling his or her benefits is also in legal jeopardy and I am beginning to see cases where they are prosecuted too.

That’s enough for now, I’ve given you some previews of what we will be discussing going forward as these kinds of cases are busted by the feds.

***Here is the chart from the CNS story I mentioned above. Note that the vast majority of food stamp fraud occurs in small groceries and convenience stores.

 

chart of small grocery fraud

question markI’ve been following food stamp fraud stories for years, click here at RRW and you will see some incredible ones that make these Arkansas scammers look like amateurs.
Almost never is a photo available of the perps. Why is that I wonder?

 

 

 

Delaware: Largest “Known” Food Stamp Fraud Bust in State’s History

That is what the Associated Press reported yesterday when announcing that a Wilmington Convenience Store owner is headed to the slammer.

snap fraud posters
A state by state list of where to report suspected food stamp fraud is here:  https://www.fns.usda.gov/report-nutrition-assistance-fraud-state

New American, Debasish Muhuri, has been sentenced to 14 months and was ordered to repay US taxpayers $1.7 million in restitution for bilking the SNAP program.

According to the AP, he used the standard practice for stealing from the food stamp program which was designed to feed poor people, but instead is now used regularly by crooks running convenience stores and their patrons looking for easy cash.

Here is what AP said at Delaware Online:

 

Muhuri and his wife owned the “Mama” and “Mama Convenient/Uniform” stores in Wilmington.

Authorities say that between 2014 and 2017, Muhuri illegally bought customers’ food stamps for cash, normally paying only half of their value.

He then redeemed the benefits at full value from the government and pocketed the difference.

 

I’ve been following these schemes off and on for nearly 12 years after I became aware of  the fraud in the county where I live. That store owner, Mohammad Khan, was ultimately arrested and sentenced to time in prison as well as ordered to pay restitution.

However, the jail time is usually short and I’ve never seen a case where the convicted scammer was deported.

I have dozens and dozens of posts at Refugee Resettlement Watch about food stamp fraud. Click here if you want to see some doozies.

A favorite story from 2011

One of my all time favorites was this one from Waukegan, Wisconsin back in 2011. The story was reported in the Chicago Sun-Times, but as expected, that story is no longer available so it’s a good thing I captured some of it.

The crooks, Khaled Saleh, 46, and Fatima Saleh, 35 were arrested after Fatima tried to make a run for it with a suitcase full of cash while dragging her mother behind her.

 

After a north suburban couple’s grocery was searched during a food stamp and nutrition program fraud investigation, the woman was caught trying to flee with more than $350,000 in a suitcase, federal prosecutors claim.

The couple, who own and operate Sunset Food Market in Waukegan, allegedly defrauded the federal food stamp and nutrition programs of more than $500,000 over the last two years, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

[….]

Agents executed a search warrant at Sunset Market on April 26. After the search, Fatima Saleh went to her apartment and agents observed her leaving a short time later with a suitcase and her mother, the release said.

 

The Salehs used the same method as Khan had done where I live, and Delaware’s Debasish Muhuri did recently.

Customer with SNAP benefits comes in and wants cash. He or she sells benefits at 50 cents on the dollar. Customer walks away with cash (often for drug money!) and the manager/owner submits the full dollar for reimbursement by the government (well, by you and me, the taxpayers).

Reporter Katherine Rodriguiz at Breitbart recently cataloged her top nine food stamp fraud stories from 2018, here.  But, you need to follow links back to see the names of the perps.

question markSo, again, why are we kept in the dark about Debasish Muhuri’s nationality and immigration status? Is he here legally? And, if so through which legal program did he become a new American? If we knew how these criminal minds were entering the US, maybe we could fix the loopholes.