Federal Jury Finds Meriden Grocery Store Operator Guilty Of Food Stamp Fraud
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, today announced that a federal jury in New Haven has found MYRACHID ELQUAFAI, 51, a citizen of Morocco last residing in New Haven, guilty of defrauding the federal Food Stamp Program while operating a Meriden grocery store. The jury returned the verdict today following a five-day trial before United States District Judge Janet C. Hall in New Haven.
According to the evidence disclosed during the trial, 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.
ELQUAFAI operated CJ Express and Groceries, LLC, located at 145 West Main Street in Meriden. From approximately June 2010 to July 2012, ELQUAFAI conspired with Carlos Dominguez, the owner of CJ Express and Groceries, to redeem SNAP benefits at the store at a significantly discounted rate in exchange for cash and cigarettes. Since February 2010, it is estimated that $820,000 in illegal SNAP benefits were redeemed at the store.
The jury found ELQUAFAI guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and one count of food stamp fraud. Judge Hall has scheduled sentencing for July 19, 2013, at which time ELQUAFAI faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years.
ELQUAFAI has been detained since his arrest on August 2, 2012.
Dominguez has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.
This matter has been investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General and the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Neeraj Patel and Anastasia King.
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