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Tampa, Florida – U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday has sentenced Bassam Al Saleh (65, Tampa) to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to defraud and to make false statements to the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). The court also ordered Al Saleh to make restitution to the USDA in the amount of $654,502.28.
According to court documents, Bassam Al Saleh joined in a conspiracy to defraud the USDA and to make false statements to the USDA in 2015 when he agreed to aid in submitting false and fraudulent representations to the USDA that his brother, Ahmad Al Saleh, was buying a St. Petersburg convenience store that was enrolled to accept USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (“SNAP”) program benefits. After the USDA prohibited the prior owner of the store from accepting any SNAP benefit purchases and prohibited him from even working at the store, Bassam Al Saleh joined with his brother, Ahmad Al Saleh, and the prior store owner to create false records and representations that Ahmad Al Saleh had bought the store and that Ahmad Al Saleh was operating it himself. In reality, the previous store owner continued to operate and manage the store and continued to make profits from it, paying Ahmad Al Saleh a fee for the use of Al Saleh’s name as the owner of the store on USDA documents. During the time that the prior owner was still operating the store under the supposed ownership of Ahmad Al Saleh, the prior owner committed numerous acts of SNAP benefits trafficking at the store. In those instances, the prior store owner bought SNAP benefits from customers and paid for them in cash, in direct violation of USDA SNAP regulations. The court determined that the losses to the SNAP program from the prior store owner’s engagement in this conduct during the time period of the supposed “ownership” of the store by Ahmad Al Saleh was at least $654,502.84.
This case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture -Office of Inspector General, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and Homeland Security Investigations, with assistance from the St. Petersburg Police Department. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jay L. Hoffer.