The owners of two small Wichita grocery stores are among 13 people charged with stealing more than $580,000 in food stamp benefits.
U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom announced the indictment at a news conference this afternoon, saying unemployed and homeless people were paid cash for their Vision cards. After paying about half their face value, Grissom said the debit cards were charged their full value at the Alnoor Grocery and Kansas Food Market.
Although no merchandise left the grocery stores, Grissom said the benefits would be collected from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant (SNAP) program, administered through the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
SRS investigators started noticing drastic rises in SNAP purchases at the two stores in whole dollar amounts.
"If you tried, you can't go to the store and make purchases of exactly $250 or $500," Grissom said.
During the past 11 months, Grissom said, the Alnoor Grocery and Biryani House, 5220 E. 21st, went from claiming $4,313 in monthly SNAP purchases to more than $90,000. At the Kansas Food Market, 2600 N. Arkansas, benefits jumped from $682 a month to $26,000 between last February and September.
Alnoor Grocery owners Muhammad Qadeer Akram, 46, and his wife, Shama Oadeer, 37, are charged with multiple counts of food stamp and wire fraud, as is Ahmed Ajami Al-Maleki, owner of the Kansas Food Market. Both are charged in separate indictments.
Wally Mikhael Gaggo, 48, is charged in both indictments. Grissom called Gaggo "a runner" who would buy Vision cards and personal identification numbers for cash from people on the streets.
Transactions took place at the Drop-in Center, 353 N. Market, and a parking lot at 3rd Street and Broadway, near the U.S. Courthouse.
Nine recipients of Vision cards are also charged in the grand jury indictment with conspiracy, food stamp and wire fraud.
The wire fraud count could bring a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, with the conspiracy and food stamp charges bringing five years each. The defendants also face $250,000 in fines on each count.
Grissom said federal authorities had already seized $200,000 in cash and other personal property and will seek court orders to take those assets to pay back taxpayers for their losses.