Birmingham Store Owner Pleads Guilty to Food Stamp and Tax Fraud
BIRMINGHAM -- The owner of a Southside Birmingham grocery store pleaded guilty today in federal court to food stamp and tax fraud totaling more than $1.6 million, announced U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance, U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, Investigations, Special Agent in Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox, and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Veronica Hyman-Pillot.
SUFYAN HAZEM SALEH, 33, of Birmingham, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor to one count of tax fraud and one count of food stamp fraud. As part of his plea, he agreed to pay restitution of $498,470 to the IRS and $1,125,772 to the USDA, which administers the food stamp program under the name Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Saleh is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 10.
Saleh owns the now closed City Supermarket at 1531 13th Place South, a convenience grocery story that was authorized by USDA to accept food stamp benefits, according to his indictment and plea agreement. A federal grand jury indicted Saleh in August 2014. The indictment remained sealed until Saleh's arrest in February.
Individuals in the SNAP program receive benefits from the USDA on an electronic benefit transfer card, which functions like a debit card. Saleh pleaded guilty to redeeming EBT SNAP benefits for cash, which is prohibited, between January 2010 and December 2011. Of the approximate $1.9 million City Supermarket redeemed in EBT SNAP benefits during that period, the USDA estimated that $1,125,772 was food stamp fraud, according to Saleh's plea.
Saleh also pleaded guilty to tax fraud for under reporting to the IRS his 2009 and 2010 income received from redeeming SNAP benefits. Saleh did not report about $1.6 million in income from food stamp redemption for the two tax years, resulting in a tax loss of about $498,470, according to his plea.
The maximum penalty for the tax fraud is three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for food stamp fraud is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Saleh recently was arrested on unrelated state charges of food stamp fraud.
The USDA-OIG and IRS-CI investigated the federal case, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Meadows prosecuted.