Convenience Store Operator Pleads Guilty to Food Stamp Fraud on the First Day of Trial
BALTIMORE, MD—Abdo Mohamed Nagi, age 54, a citizen of Yemen residing in Baltimore, pleaded guilty on July 21, 2014, to two counts of food stamp fraud and six counts of wire fraud in connection with a scheme to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash. Nagi admitted that he obtained more than $1.2 million from the food stamp program, to which he was not entitled. Nagi entered his guilty plea on the first day of his trial.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William G. Squires, Jr. of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to the indictment to which he pleaded guilty, Nagi owned and operated New York Deli and Grocery, located at 1207 West Baltimore Street, in Baltimore. Through the store, Nagi participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamp Program. In Maryland, the program provides eligible individuals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card called the Independence Card, which operates like a debit card. Recipients obtain EBT cards through the state Department of Human Resources, then use the EBT card to purchase approved food items from participating retailers.
Nagi knew that it was a violation of SNAP regulations to trade cash for SNAP benefits. Nevertheless, from February 2011 through May 2013, Nagi exchanged SNAP benefits for cash at less than face value of the EBT benefits, in violation of the food stamp program rules. Typically, Nagi and kept up to 50 percent of the benefits for himself. To avoid detection, Nagi often debited funds in multiple transactions within minutes of each other. As a result of these illegal cash transactions, Nagi admitted that he obtained more than $1.2 million for food sales that never occurred.
Nagi faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each of the six counts of wire fraud and five years in prison for each of the two counts of food stamp fraud. U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz has scheduled sentencing for October 10, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.
Eight of the 10 convenience store owners or operators who were indicted in September 2013 in connection with schemes to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash have pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud and/or wire fraud. Abdullah Aljaradi, age 52, and Ahmed Ayedh Al-Jabrati, age 56, both citizens of Yemen residing in Baltimore, were each sentenced to two years in prison, and ordered to pay restitution of $1.2 million. Jung Kim, age 52, of Ellicott City, Maryland, was sentenced to 20 months in prison, and ordered to forfeit $95,453.50 and pay restitution of $205,000. Amara Cisse, age 51, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $654,349.24, and his wife, Fanta Keita was sentenced to two months in prison. John Cunningham, age 55, of Baltimore, was sentenced to two years in prison. Retailer Hyung Cho, age 40, was sentenced to 38 months in prison, and his mother Dae Cho, age 67, was sentenced to 18 months in prison. The Chos were also ordered to forfeit $371,439.21 and pay restitution of $1.4 million. Two more retailers were indicted in January 2014.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised USDA’s Office of Inspector General and FBI for their work in the investigation. U.S. Attorney Rosenstein expressed appreciation to Secretary Ted Dallas and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—Office of Fraud Detection and National Security for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Leo J. Wise, who is prosecuting this case.