MERIDEN STORE OPERATORS
CHARGED WITH FOOD STAMP FRAUD
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that three individuals affiliated with two Meriden food stores have been charged with defrauding the federal Food Stamp Program.
CARLOS DOMINGUEZ, 56, of Meriden, MYRACHID ELQUAFAI, 50, of New Haven, and SERAFETTIN BUYUKSOY, 56, of Meriden, were arrested yesterday on federal criminal complaints. Following their arrests, they appeared before United States Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport and are currently detained. DOMINGUEZ owns CJ EXPRESS AND GROCERY, LLC, located at 145 West Main Street in Meriden, and ELQUAFAI is an employee of the store. BUYUKSOY is an employee of J’S CORNER STORE, located at 160 West Main Street in Meriden.
The federal Food Stamp Program, which is now known as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (“SNAP”), is administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and utilizes federal tax dollars to subsidize low-income households to provide them with the opportunity to achieve a more nutritious diet by increasing their food-purchasing power. SNAP recipients purchase eligible food items at retail food stores through the use of an EBT card, which is similar to an ATM card. SNAP benefits may be accepted by authorized retailers only in exchange for eligible items. Items such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, paper goods and soaps are not eligible for purchase with Food Stamp benefits, and it is a violation of the rules and regulations governing the food stamp program to allow benefits to be used to purchase ineligible items. SNAP benefits may not lawfully be exchanged for cash under any circumstances. The program is designed so that the total amount of each purchase is electronically transferred to the retailer’s designated bank account.
It is alleged that DOMINGUEZ, ELQUAFAI, and BUYUKSOY illegally redeemed SNAP benefits at their stores in exchange for cash, typically at a discounted rate of approximately 50 to 70 percent of the full value of the benefits. Since 2010, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal SNAP benefits were redeemed at the two stores.
If convicted of the charge of food stamp fraud, each defendant faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years, a fine of up to $250,000, and full restitution to the government.
U.S. Attorney Fein stressed that a complaint is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General and the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, with the assistance of the State of Connecticut’s Department of Social Services. These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Felice M. Duffy.
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