News and Press Releases

Pakistani Grocery Owner Paid Cash for Food Stamps Resulting in $30,000+ Fraud

January 4, 2007

MIZRA M. AKRAM, 39, of Everett, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to eighteen months in prison and two years of supervised release for ten counts of Food Stamp Fraud and thirteen counts of Wire Fraud. In July 2006, AKRAM was convicted on all counts following a five day jury trial. At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Marsha J. Pechman told AKRAM, “it strikes me it is like robbing a food bank to go in and rob people in need.”

At trial prosecutors presented evidence that AKRAM, as owner of Continental Spices in Everett, repeatedly allowed customers to redeem their food stamps for cash or for items other than food. AKRAM would charge customers a portion of the food stamps redeemed. Government investigators first noticed irregularities in the store’s food stamp redemptions when investigating an arson at the store in July 2004. Investigators noticed that food stamp redemptions exceeded sales of food at the store. In addition to charging customers for food stamp redemptions for cash and non-food items, AKRAM cheated food stamp recipients by swiping their food stamp cards through the debit machine repeatedly. AKRAM told some recipients the first transaction had not gone through, and swiped the card again to increase the money coming to the store from the food stamp program. Because many of these transactions occurred electronically AKRAM was charged with Wire Fraud as well as Food Stamp Fraud. The amount of fraud was $30,723.

Judge Pechman indicated she was particularly concerned about the immigrants whose food stamp accounts were drained without their knowledge. “It’s taking advantage of someone’s inability to understand how the system functions, and it’s egregious when all people want to do is feed their family,” Judge Pechman said.

AKRAM was charged in August 2004 in connection with an arson at his Everett store. The fire was staged to look like a hate crime. In February 2006, following an eight day jury trial, a mistrial was declared on the Arson counts when the jury could not reach a unanimous verdict. A retrial on the Arson charge is currently scheduled for February 2007.

AKRAM is a citizen of Pakistan with legal residency in the United States. He could be deported following his prison term.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) and the Everett Police Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew Friedman and Jill Otake.

For additional information please call Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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