Baltimore, Maryland – Abdulmalik Abdulla, age 37, and Ahmed Mohssen, age 53, both of Baltimore, were arrested today on federal charges of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash. The criminal complaint filed today alleges that the defendants, who operate Sam’s NY grocery store on North Milton Street in Baltimore, received over $1.5 million in federal payments for transactions in which they did not provide any food, but split the proceeds with food stamp recipients. Federal agents arrested the defendants and executed search warrants at the store and related locations today. In separate cases, ten defendants were charged with food stamp fraud in September 2013; four of those defendants have pleaded guilty and the others are awaiting trial.
The arrests were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William G. Squires, Jr. of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Retailers who trade food stamp credits for cash are on notice that federal authorities are on their trail,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Taxpayers fund the program to provide food for needy recipients, not to turn retail store cash registers into ATM machines.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamp Program, is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), together with state agencies. The program funds low-income individuals to allow them to obtain a more nutritious diet. In Maryland, the program provides eligible individuals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card called the Independence Card, which operates like a debit card. Recipients use the EBT card to purchase approved food items from participating retailers.
Retailers must apply to and be approved by FNS to participate in the program. Authorized retailers use a point-of-sale terminal that checks the EBT card information and deducts the cash value of the purchase from the customer’s SNAP benefit balance. SNAP reimbursements are paid to retailers through electronic funds transfers. Retailers bill the government in return for providing approved food items. SNAP retailers, including the defendants, receive instruction regarding the requirements and regulations of the food stamp program, such as that only eligible food items can be exchanged for EBT benefits and that a retailer may never exchange EBT benefits for cash or non-food items.
The criminal complaint alleges that the defendants exchanged EBT benefits for cash, typically paying half the value of the EBT benefits in cash. As a result of unlawful cash transactions, the defendants allegedly obtained more than $1.5 million in EBT deposits for transactions in which the store did not provide food.
The defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, and a maximum of five years in prison for conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud. The defendants are expected to have initial appearances at 3:45 p.m. today in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the USDA Office of Inspector General and FBI for their work in the investigation. U.S. Attorney Rosenstein expressed appreciation to Secretary Ted Dallas and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Office of Fraud Detection and National Security for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, who is prosecuting the case.