Convenience Store Owner Pleads Guilty to Trafficking in Food Stamps
ATLANTA—Tessema Lulseged, the owner and operator of Big T Supermarket in Decatur, Georgia, has pleaded guilty to trafficking in food stamps. Lulseged allowed his customers to exchange their food stamp benefits for cash in a scheme that netted him $6.5 million.
“Food stamps are intended to provide assistance to our citizens most in need,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John A. Horn. “This defendant ran a corrupt exchange scheme that, until his scheme was discovered, undermined the purpose of the program and resulted in great financial benefit to himself.”
“This defendant, in knowingly and so aggressively stealing government assistance from vulnerable individuals who were already struggling, demonstrates a new level of insensitivity and greed. The FBI will continue to provide assets and resources to assist in ensuring that these much needed federally funded assistance programs are used as intended and not abused by such individuals as Mr. Lulseged,” said J. Britt Johnson, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office.
“USDA-OIG dedicates its resources to ensuring integrity in its programs. One of the ways in which USDA-OIG does this is through vigorously investigating allegations of fraud in the EBT program,” said Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent-in-Charge, USDA-OIG. “Tessema Lulseged made a choice to defraud the EBT program and in doing so defrauded the taxpayers of millions of dollars through purchasing benefits from recipients. He, like countless others, may look at this as a victimless crime. However, it is not a victimless crime, but rather a crime that takes away needed food from the mouths of those the program was intended for. More often than not, those victims, many of whom are children, have no say in how the benefits are used. USDA-OIG will continue to work with DOJ and its law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who greedily and selfishly traffic in EBT benefits.”
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges, and other information presented in court: From January 2009 through April 2014, Lulseged unlawfully allowed his customers to exchange their food stamp benefits for cash at the rate of 60 cents on the dollar. As part of the deal, Lulseged required customers to purchase eligible food products equal to 10 percent of the value of the transaction. For example, if a customer wanted to sell $100 worth of food stamp benefits for $60, that customer also had to purchase $10 worth of eligible food products from Lulseged’s store. The fraudulent scheme netted Lulseged approximately $6.5 million.
Pursuant to search and seizure warrants that were executed in February 2014, the government seized and forfeited over $700,000 in funds tainted by the fraud. The government also forfeited two pieces of real property – the defendant’s personal residence in Gray, Georgia, and his store property in Decatur, Georgia, on the grounds that they were proceeds of the fraud and properties involved in money laundering transactions.
Lulseged, 49, of Decatur, Georgia, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Leigh Martin May. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 22, 2015, at 10:00 a.m.
This case is being investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Investigations Division, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Assistant United States Attorneys J. Russell Phillips and Jenny R. Turner are prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Affairs Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the home page for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division is http://www.justice.gov/usao/gan/.