This is yet another case of Muslim immigrants taking advantage of our tax dollars! This case and the punishment are ridiculous!
WATERBURY – A federal agent, with help from an informant, went undercover for nearly two years to document food stamp fraud occurring at an inner-city market whose employees were busted in recent weeks.
Though W.B. Trade Fair Supermarket, a small corner market on Willow Street, had dusty cans and only one regularly used register, federal authorities estimated they have redeemed almost $5.7 million in food stamps since 2011.
But those benefits weren’t used to provide nutritional food to city residents, rather they were swapped for cash, glass smoking pipes and even power tools, federal authorities allege.
A recently unsealed federal search warrant for the store shows an undercover agent with the Office of the Inspector General suspected the store of “trafficking,” or exchanging large amounts of benefits for cash.
Tallat Mahmood, 63, Raul Carlos Monarca, 40, and Tahir Shahzad, 32, of Harrison, N.Y. were charged with federal food stamp fraud and illegally trafficking in food stamp benefits.
The food stamp program is aimed at giving low-income residents the ability to purchase nutritious foods using a type of debit card called an EBT. But people enrolled in the program are barred from buying booze, cigarettes, paper goods and soap, among other items. The market is well stocked with everything from rice and sugar, to doorknobs and scented candles.
But authorities say the trio allowed customers to illegally swap their federal food stamps, known as Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program or SNAP benefits, for cigarettes, bongs, hookahs and glass smoking pipes, which are in display cases at the front of the store.
When the EBT card is run through a special terminal, the total amount of items is inputted by the store, which is then deducted from the person’s SNAP account. When that occurs, that inputted amount is then transferred to the store’s bank account.
Federal authorities allege the men exploited those transfers, giving customers a meager portion of their SNAP benefits in cash, while the rest went into the store’s bank account. Store employees are supposed to ensure the items being purchased are eligible for the benefits when they run the person’s EBT card.
THE STORE OPENED IN early 2011 and by March of that year the owners applied to accept SNAP benefits, federal authorities allege. The store redeemed $6,532 in SNAP benefits in April 2011, but by March of this year, that one-month tally had grown to more than $179,000, according to federal documents.
The agent, along with an informant, visited the store 19 times starting in 2014 and paid about $7,381 in SNAP benefits in exchange for about $2,905 in cash “and a number of eligible and ineligible items such as soda, chips, glass pipes, bongs, hookahs, and hardware.”
For instance, in April, the agent was given $200 cash, two glass smoking pipes, an electric circular saw and cigarettes in exchange for $583 in SNAP benefits.
Only weeks later, a federal SNAP employee visited the store under the guise of inspecting it to talk about SNAP rules and regulations.
Shahzad indicated he knew that exchanging cash for SNAP benefits was prohibited, while Mahmood stated the benefits were to “buy food, that’s it” and “no lottery.”
Only weeks later during another visit by the undercover agent, an employee at the store gave him $200 cash for $540 in benefits.
THOUGH AUTHORITIES SUSPECT the store redeemed more than $5 million in federal benefits, the store employees were charged with fraud based on a roughly 18-month span starting in 2014 where the store took in $3.2 million in benefits.
“This practice results in illegal profits to traffickers, misuse of government funds intended to provide food for needy families, and the creation of a market for stolen or fraudulently obtained SNAP benefits,” the agent wrote of alleged traffickers, according to a federal search warrant for the store.
The store now only accepts cash for payment, according to a sign on its door.
Mahmood and Shahzad are free after they posted bond, but they were ordered to surrender their passports. Monarca has not been released from jail. If convicted, they face a maximum of five years in prison.
The principal member of the store is listed as Aijaz Ahmed, according to state business records, but he has not been charged with any crime.