District Attorney

Posted on: April 29, 2015

Acting DA Singas Announces Arrests in Joint Investigation to Combat Food Stamp Fraud

Food Stamp fraud

Nassau store owners and employees arrested for food stamp trafficking scheme that federal officials estimate to total $1.3 million MINEOLA, N.Y. – Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced charges against food store businesses, owners and employees as a result of a joint investigation that federal officials estimate to total $1.3 million in food stamp fraud. “Public Assistance programs are supposed to be for people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, not for store owners and their employees to line their pockets and profit at the expense of taxpayers and the people that need food stamp benefits the most,” Acting DA Singas said. “Food stamp benefits are a lifeline for many Nassau residents, and my office will continue to work with local, state, and federal agencies to make sure this vital program remains fiscally sound. I thank our partners for their invaluable assistance in this case.” “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was created to provide food and nutrition to those who truly need this assistance. Those who are involved in fraud and abuse of SNAP and other USDA programs will be aggressively pursued by our office,” USDA Office of Inspector General, Special Agent-in-Charge William G. Squires Jr. said. “Our joint investigation with the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office and Nassau County Police Department has brought to justice several individuals who obtained thousands of dollars from the SNAP program through illegal schemes. The USDA Office of Inspector General will continue to dedicate resources and work with our state and local law enforcement partners in order to protect the integrity of these programs and to prosecute those who commit fraud.” “My administration works tirelessly with State and Federal agencies to root out waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars,” said Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano. “These arrests should serve as further warning that anyone who cheats our taxpayers will be apprehended and brought to justice.” Administered by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are issued to recipients who apply for food stamp benefits through their local Department of Social Services. Once the recipient is deemed eligible for such benefits, an account is opened in the recipient’s name and the recipient is issued an Electronic Benefit Transfer card by SNAP. According to USDA regulations, retailers who wish to participate in SNAP must apply for a license to redeem food stamps. As part of a retailer’s application for a license, the owner of each location must certify and sign an application which includes language that prohibits trading cash for food stamp benefits and accepting food stamp benefits as payment for ineligible items, such as alcohol or cigarettes. Happy MiniMarket, Corp., located at 118 N. Franklin St. in Hempstead, and owner, Remigio Betances, 53, of Brooklyn, were charged with Grand Larceny in the 2nd Degree (a C felony), Misuse of Food Stamps, Food Stamp Program Coupons, Authorization Cards and Electronic Access Devices (a C felony) and Falsifying Business Records in the 1st Degree (an E felony). Three current and former employees of the store, Domingo Henriquez, 49, address unknown; Ariel Rey Gonzales, 26, of Brooklyn; and Franklin Diaz, 44, of Hempstead were charged with grand larceny, petit larceny, food stamp fraud and falsifying business records. A warrant has been issued for Betances’ arrest. Henriquez was released on his own recognizance today by Nassau District Court Judge James Darcy, and is due back in court on May 11. Gonzales is expected to be arraigned tomorrow in 1st District Court, Hempstead. Diaz was issued a desk appearance ticket and is expected to be back in court on May 18. During the course of an undercover investigation from April 2012 through July 2014, Happy MiniMarket, through its employees, fraudulently charged the food stamp benefits program $3,904.92 in unauthorized transactions, including sales of cigarettes and beer, as well as exchanging benefits for cash. During the investigation, in one instance a $120 food stamp transaction involving the illegal cashing out of food stamp benefits would include the store giving $60 to an undercover investigator and keeping $60 for itself. On several occasions, investigators were able to present multiple Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards issued by SNAP, in the names of various individuals, with store employees exchanging U.S. currency for each card, without any authorized food transactions. In this case, the USDA concluded that the total amount of food stamp trafficking committed by Happy MiniMarket from Jan. 1, 2012 through Dec. 31, 2014 was approximately $439,685.60. Franklin Street MiniMarket, Inc., located at 235 S. Franklin St. in Hempstead, co-owner Hashim Alzundani, 26, of Uniondale, and co-owner Median Hammud, 36, of East Meadow, were charged with Grand Larceny in the 2nd Degree; Misuse of Food Stamps, Food Stamp Program Coupons, Authorization Cards and Electronic Access Devices; and Falsifying Business Records in the 1st Degree. A clerk at the store, Hector Rivas Molina, 24, address unknown, was charged with petit larceny, food stamp fraud and falsifying business records. Judge Darcy set bail for Alzundani at $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash. Molina was released on his own recognizance. Both defendants are due back in court on May 11. A warrant has been issued for Hammud’s arrest. During the course of an undercover investigation from April 2012 through April 2015, Franklin Street MiniMarket, through its employees, fraudulently charged the food stamp benefits program $2,472.18 dollars in unauthorized transactions, including sales of cigarettes and beer, as well as exchanging benefits for cash. In one example, for a $113.50 food stamp transaction in which the fraudulent transaction was for money only, an undercover investigator was given $50 and the store kept $50 for itself. The remaining $13.50 was spent on eligible food items. On several occasions, undercovers were able to present multiple EBT benefit cards in the names of various individuals, and the clerks at the location exchanged U.S. currency for each card, without any authorized food transactions. In this case, the USDA has concluded that the total amount of food stamp trafficking committed by Franklin Street MiniMarket, Inc. since January 1, 2012 is approximately $725,032.95. Franklin Street Grocery, Inc., located at 171 S. Franklin St. in Hempstead, and owner Sameer Shahin, 51, of North Bellmore, were charged with Grand Larceny in the 2nd Degree; Misuse of Food Stamps, Food Stamp Program Coupons, Authorization Cards and Electronic Access Devices; and Falsifying Business Records in the 1st Degree. A former clerk, Suliman Shahin aka Simon Asfour, 21, of North Bellmore, was charged with petit larceny, food stamp fraud and falsifying business records. Judge Darcy set bail for Sameer Shahin at $5,000 bond or $2,500 cash. Suliman Shahin was released on his own recognizance by Judge Darcy, and is due back in court on May 11. During the course of an undercover investigation from April 2012 through April 2015 Franklin Street Grocery, through its employees, fraudulently charged the food stamp benefits program $2,944.50 in unauthorized transactions, including sales of cigarettes and beer, as well as exchanging benefits for cash. For example, undercover investigators made a $108.54 food stamp transaction in which the fraudulent transaction was for money only, the undercover was given $50 and the store kept $50 for itself. The remaining $8.54 was spend on eligible food items. On several occasions, investigators were able to present multiple EBT benefit cards in the names of various individuals, with store employees exchanging U.S. currency for each card, without any authorized food transactions. In this case, the USDA has concluded that the total amount of food stamp trafficking committed by Franklin Street Grocery since Jan. 1, 2012 is approximately $202,279.84. The undercover investigation was coordinated by the DA’s office and the United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, Investigations and the U.S. Dept of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services with the assistance of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and Nassau County Department of Social Services Special Investigations. Assistant District Attorney Meghan Lavine of Acting DA Singas’ Public Assistance Fraud Unit is prosecuting the case. In the Happy MiniMarket case, Henriquez is represented by Legal Aid Society of Nassau County. In the Franklin Street MiniMarket case, Alzundani is represented by Jack Posner, Esq.; Molina is represented by Marvin Hirsch, Esq. In the Franklin Street Grocery case, Sameer Shahin is represented by Matt Fleischer, Esq.; Suliman Shahin is represented by Elias Jaghab, Esq. The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.

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