Second Conspirator Pleads Guilty in Lakeland SNAP Fraud Ring
TAMPA, FL—United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that Basem Abualteen (48, Lakeland) pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiracy to defraud the United States. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, and has agreed to make restitution (along with co-conspirators) in the amount of $2,110,778 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Nutrition Service.
According to the plea agreement, from January 2013 to August 27, 2014, Abualteen conspired with Hamzeh Abu-Aish and Shoeneikia Abu-Aish to defraud the USDA’s food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP). Hamzeh Abu-Aish was the owner of Finest Meat Market d/b/a Finest Super Market in Lakeland. Abualteen and Shoeneikia Abu-Aish worked as Finest store clerks beginning in about January 2013. Hamzeh Abu-Aish instructed the clerks to purchase SNAP benefits from SNAP recipients in exchange for cash and a commission, a practice called “cash back” or “discounting.” For example, a SNAP recipient would approach a store clerk and ask for $100 in cash. The store clerk would charge approximately $200 to the recipient’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, and then give the SNAP recipient $100 in cash. This practice is strictly prohibited by SNAP regulations. During the scheme, Finest SNAP EBT redemptions far exceeded the national and state averages of similarly sized stores. For example, during July 2013, the average SNAP benefit redemptions for a similarly sized store were $7,059 in Florida, and $6,490 nationally. Finest had $160,821 in SNAP benefit redemptions for the month of July alone. During Abualteen’s participation in the scheme, Finest submitted and received approximately $2,110,778 in fraudulent SNAP EBT redemptions.
On December 3, 2014, Shoenekia Abu-Aish pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with the same fraudulent SNAP scheme. On the same date, a grand jury returned a two count indictment charging Hamzeh Abu-Aish with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG). It is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Mark E. Bini.