SNAP Fraudster Sentenced to Prison
TAMPA, FL—U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday has sentenced Basem Abualteen (48, Lakeland) to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States. The Court also ordered him to pay $2,110,778 in restitution. Abualteen pleaded guilty on December 23, 2014.
According to court documents, from January 2013 to August 27, 2014, Abualteen conspired with Hamzeh Abu-Aish and Shoeneikia Abu-Aish to defraud the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Hamzeh Abu-Aish was the owner of Finest Meat Market d/b/a Finest Super Market located in Lakeland. Abualteen and Shoeneikia Abu-Aish worked as Finest store clerks beginning in 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 then charge $200 to the SNAP 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 course of the scheme, SNAP EBT redemptions at Finest far exceeded the national and state averages of similarly sized stores. In July 2013, the average SNAP benefit redemptions for a similarly sized store was $7,059 in Florida, and $6,490 nationally. Finest had $160,821 in SNAP benefit redemptions for that same time period. During Abualteen’s participation in the scheme, Finest submitted and received approximately $2,110,778 in fraudulent SNAP EBT redemptions.
Hamzeh Abu-Aish and Shoeneikia Abu-Aish previously pleaded guilty for their roles in this scheme. Shoeneikia Abu-Aish has been sentenced to three years’ probation. The sentencing hearing for Hamzeh Abu-Aish is scheduled for July 17, 2015.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General. It was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Matthew Jackson and Mark Bini.