Convenience Store Owner Sentenced to Federal Prison for Trafficking in Food Stamps
ATLANTA - Tessema Lulseged has been sentenced to serve four years and three months in federal prison for using his Decatur, Georgia, convenience store to illegally traffic in food stamps. Lulseged allowed his customers to exchange their food stamp benefits for cash in a scheme that netted him $6.5 million.
“The purpose of the food stamp program is to offer low-income citizens nutritional assistance, and this defendant undermined the program solely for his own profit and cost taxpayers more than $6.5 million,” said U.S. Attorney John Horn.
The United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General- Investigations, actively investigates allegations of fraud in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). Annually, this type of fraudulent activity undermines this program by misdirecting millions of dollars of taxpayer funds from the purposes they were intended. We would like to thank U.S Attorney's Office for aggressively prosecuting perpetrators of fraud and sending a strong message that illegally profiting by defrauding USDA programs will not be tolerated,” said Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent-in-Charge for USDA’s Office of Inspector General.
“This case represents an individual systematically exploiting those in need and diverting U.S. funds intended for the needy to his own bank account. The FBI is pleased with its role in bringing this case forward for prosecution which resulted in today’s federal prison sentence for Mr. Lulseged,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
According to U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court: From January 2009 through April 2014, Lulseged operated Tess Market, Inc., d/b/a Big T Supermarket, a convenience store in Decatur, Georgia, where he unlawfully allowed his customers to exchange their food stamp benefits for cash at the rate of 60 cents on the dollar. As part of the deal, Lulseged required customers to purchase eligible food products equal to 10% of the value of the transaction. For example, if a customer wanted to sell $100 worth of food stamp benefits for $60, that customer also had to purchase $10 worth of eligible food products from Lulseged’s store. The fraudulent scheme netted Lulseged approximately $6.5 million.
Pursuant to search and seizure warrants that were executed in February 2014, the government seized and forfeited over $700,000 in funds tainted by the fraud. The government also forfeited two pieces of real property: the defendant’s personal residence in Gray, Georgia, and his store property in Decatur, Georgia, on the grounds that they were proceeds of the fraud and properties involved in money laundering transactions.
Tessema Lulseged, 49, of Decatur, Georgia, was sentenced to four years, three months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5,930,450.16. Lulseged was convicted on these charges on July 7, 2015, after he pleaded guilty.
This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Investigations Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Russell Phillips, Dahil D. Goss, and Jenny R. Turner prosecuted the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia is http://www.justice.gov/usao-ndga.