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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                                          Feb. 9, 2012                   

JOINT FEDERAL-STATE OPERATION TARGETS TWO CONVENIENCE STORES IN HUNTINGTON NEIGHBORHOOD

Four Huntington Residents Arrested in Connection with Illegal Food Stamp Fraud Scheme Investigation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced today that two federal indictments have been unsealed after the arrest of four individuals involved in schemes to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. The indictments allege, among other things, that the defendants would take the SNAP benefits and in turn provide cash to the holder of the SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (“EBT”) card. Defendants are alleged to have given only 50 to 65 cents on the dollar for the SNAP benefits and then pocketed the rest, reaping large profits from the transactions.

“The character of any neighborhood, good or bad, depends on a handful of sustaining institutions,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin. “In good neighborhoods, they’re schools or churches. In bad neighborhoods, they’re exactly the opposite: places where criminals of all stripes gather to do business and rub shoulders. Take away those strongholds and you fundamentally alter the neighborhood.”

“Today’s actions,” Goodwin continued, “reiterate our commitment to fundamentally alter Fairfield. It’s a promise I made when I took this job. The neighborhood’s rebirth in the past 18 months is nothing short of astonishing, and we will keep fighting, house to house and store to store, until the job is done.”

Charged today in connection with the alleged illegal scheme was Huntington store owner Abderahamane Eloirzazi, also known as “Abe.”  Eloirzazi, 44, of Huntington, is the owner and operator of Huntington-area convenience store, ALLINONE Store ("ALLINONE"), located at 1954 9th Avenue. 

From some time prior to June 2010 and continuing until January 2012, Eloirzazi and co-defendants Stephanie Pauley, 35, and Cynthia Gibson, 40, both of Huntington, allegedly conspired together and with other known individuals in an illegal EBT card-swiping scheme that took place at ALLINONE.  It is alleged in court documents that the defendants fraudulently swiped certain recipients' Mountain State Cards by charging a certain dollar amount against the value of the recipient's card.  The indictment alleges that the defendants then gave the recipients 50 to 65 cents on the dollar in cash and/or ineligible items.  It was further a part of the alleged conspiracy that the ALLINONE bank account received by wire transaction, the full amount of the fraudulent transactions.  In total, it is alleged the three co-defendants redeemed approximately $127,000 in SNAP benefits.

Also charged today by federal indictment in a similar scheme was Ibrahim Osman Owayda, also known as “Abe.”  Owayda, 34, of Huntington, was a manager of Huntington Mart (“Huntington Mart”), which is located at 1117 Hal Greer Boulevard.  Beginning in or before June 2010 and continuing until about November 2011, Owayda allegedly exchanged cash for SNAP benefits on a discounted basis from various customers of the Huntington Mart.  In total, it is alleged that Owayda redeemed approximately $297,871 in SNAP benefits.

If convicted on all charges: Eloirzazi faces up to 35 years in prison and a $1 million fine; Pauley faces up to 15 years in prison and a $750,000 fine; Gibson faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1million fine; and Owayda faces up to 25 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

Investigations and arrests of the defendants represent a collaborative effort of the following agencies: the Department of Agriculture, the Huntington Police Department, the West Virginia State Police and the Department of Homeland Security.  Assistant United States Attorney Erik Goes is in charge of the prosecution. 

*PLEASE NOTE: The Fifth Amendment and applicable Federal law gives a criminal defendant a personal right of Indictment by grand jury for Federal crimes punishable by more than one year imprisonment. An Indictment is a formal, written accusation by a grand jury. An Indictment is not proof of guilt, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless the defendant is found guilty.

Click the links below to listen to audio sound bites from U.S. Attorney Goodwin discussing the fraud scheme:

Goodwin part 1

Goodwin part 2

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