A Youngstown convenience store owner was sentenced to nearly three years in prison for nearly $2.8 million in food stamp fraud, including paying cash for food stamps and accepting them for prohibited items, including alcohol and tobacco, said U.S. Attorney Carole S. Rendon and USDA-OIG Special Agent in Charge Anthony V. Mohatt.
George Rafidi, 62, was sentenced to 33 months in prison. That sentence will be served after he completes a 94-month prison sentenced for using a firearm to assault federal agents. Rafidi was convicted of that crime following a jury trial in which evidence showed he brandished a firearm to federal agents executing a search warrant at Rafidi’s home in Warren as part of the fraud investigation.
“This case sends a message that we will not tolerate the criminal abuse of a system designed to help the most vulnerable in our society meet their most basic needs,” Rendon said.
"SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net, and retailers who prey on the poor by illegally purchasing SNAP benefits erode public trust in the program,” Mohatt said. “As we conduct investigations throughout the State of Ohio, we appreciate the support of our federal and state law enforcement partners and the U.S. Attorney's Office's long-term commitment to prosecuting SNAP fraud."
Rafidi operated the former Breaden Market since 2010. USDA began investigating the store after audits revealed the store redeemed more than 10 times as much in benefits for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly known as food stamps -- as much larger stores in the area, according to court documents and testimony.
Agents learned Rafidi exchanged food stamps for cash and allowed food stamps to be used to purchase prohibited items such as alcohol and tobacco. On some occasions, agents observed people lined up outside the door to exchange food stamps for case, according to court documents and testimony.
Rafidi was also ordered to pay nearly $2.8 million in restitution and forfeited more than $23,000 in cash.
A store clerk and 29 food stamp recipients, who each received at least $5,000 in cash, were also prosecuted.
This case was being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys David M. Toepfer and Benedict S. Gullo following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General.