A 49-year-old man pleaded guilty Monday in federal court to conspiring to commit food stamp fraud.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten accepted the plea of Wally Mikhael Gaggo, 49, and set sentencing for August.
Gaggo admitted in his plea to being what prosecutors called "a runner," someone who would find people willing to sell their Vision Cards and personal identification numbers for cash. Vision Cards work like debit cards and have replaced the old food stamp system.
Often, the cards came from homeless and unemployed people at the Drop-in Center at 353 N. Market or in a parking lot near Third and Broadway, Gaggo said in his plea.
Never miss a local story.
He would then take the Vision cards to two Wichita grocery stores, where they would be charged for cash, he said in his plea. Gaggo would then return a portion of those payments to the individuals who had given him their Vision Cards.
Prosecutors say the two grocery stores collected more than $580,000 in illegal benefits from the federal government in more than 2,600 transactions from last July through February.
Gaggo and the owners of the Alnoor Grocery, 5220 E. 21st, and Kansas Food Market, 2600 N. Arkansas, are among 13 people charged in two cases.
Shama Qadeer and her husband, Muhammad Qadeer, owned the Alnoor Grocery and Biryani House. Ahmed Ajami Al-Maleki owned the Kansas Food Market.
The Qadeers and Al-Maleki have pleaded not guilty.
Gaggo pleaded guilty to being a runner in both cases. He faces a maximum of five years in federal prison on each of the two counts of conspiracy.
Federal agents and Wichita police kept surveillance on the stores, documenting people swiping their Vision cards and leaving with no groceries. The indictment also said undercover officers traded cash for Vision benefits.
Two people pleaded guilty June 1 to one count of illegally making transactions on their Vision Cards at the grocery stores in return for cash.