United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
Owners Of Two White Center Businesses Sentenced To Prison For Food Stamp Fraud
Restaurant Owner and Grocer Took Kickbacks and Provided Cash to Food Stamp Beneficiaries
MAGNOLIA GIN, 52, of Seattle, and SON HOANG LE, 35, of Bellevue, who owned two adjacent businesses in the White Center neighborhood of Seattle, Washington were sentenced this week to prison terms for food stamp fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. GIN and LE were arrested in July 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation of food stamp trafficking in Western Washington. ZAGIN was sentenced Monday, March 26, 2012, to 18 months in prison and today LE was sentenced to 24 months in prison. GIN owned Asian Bubble Tea, and LE owned NW Halal Asian Food Corporation, d/b/a D.P. Northwest Halal & Asian Food Corporation, LLC, on 17th Avenue SW, Seattle, Washington. The two conspired to redeem USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for cash. The benefits are supposed to be used only for the purchase of food.
At LE’s sentencing hearing today, Chief U.S. District Judge Marsh J. Pechman told him: “When you commit a fraud like this, you commit a fraud against every taxpayer, everybody who works hard to help needy people put food on the table… It is important that other shop owners know and understand that this is wrong and it is not going to be tolerated in our community.”
According to documents in the case, undercover agents took electronic benefits cards into Asian Bubble Tea on multiple occasions. GIN would ask the card holder how much money they wanted, and asked them to provide their personal identification number. GIN would leave with the card through the back of the restaurant and return with the cash. Records showed that the cards in question were being run at D.P. Northwest Halal. For example, a card would be swiped for $100, with $60 going to the card holder, and the co-conspirators making a $40 profit. In one instance described in the complaint, LE provided cash to an undercover agent using a SNAP benefit card at his store. Bank records indicated that LE made multiple cash withdrawals from the business account that he controlled that received payments under the SNAP program. In some instances, customers came directly into LE’s store to redeem their cards for cash, without using GIN as a go-between.
Records showed an ever increasing amount of SNAP redemptions at D.P. Northwest Halal, from just over $2,000 in April 2010, to more than $80,000 in May 2011. In just the first three weeks of June 2011, the store had redeemed more than $100,000 in SNAP benefits. A review of state revenue records revealed that in 2010, D.P. Northwest Halal claimed total sales of $274,611, but federal records show that DP Halal redeemed over $380,000 in SNAP benefits during that same time frame. In his plea agreement, LE admitted $700,000 in fraud against the food stamp program.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors noted that LE’s crime helped undermine the program. LE’s “conduct also hurt the program because it has contributed to the public perception that the program is rife with fraud. Indeed, many people have advocated ending or severely restricting the program, as the public has increasingly begun to associate the program with widespread fraud. This perception of the program hurts the countless unseen people who use the program for its intended purpose, to put food on the table for the family during hard times,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
Those who trafficked their food stamps at the Halal Market are also paying a price. According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Office of Fraud and Accountability, 69 food stamp recipients who had traded at the market are under review. So far 20 people have been disqualified from the program with another 31 cases pending disqualification. The disqualifications of 50 recipients will result in a cost savings of more than $100,000.
The case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Seattle Police Department, and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Office of Fraud and Accountability.The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Thomas Woods.