Federal investigators looking into a South Florida food store’s receipts found over $1 million in food stamp charges with $700,000 of those charges being fraudulent, investigators say.
Zulfiqar Mithavayani, 51, of Miramar could face federal prison time when sentenced after he pleaded guilty to eight counts of wire fraud and one count of wire conspiracy, admitting that he committed food stamp fraud at his Miami store, the Sun Sentinel reports.
Federal prosecutors say Mithavayani’s store redeemed $1 million more worth of food stamp purchases than the average Florida convenience store, which redeemed about $100,000, during the period between October 2012 and March 2016.
Court records show that his store, the ABC Food Market, did four times as much food stamp business than the other stores within a half-mile from his business.
Mithavayani’s takedown was part of Operation Stampede, which investigators say is the largest food stamp fraud takedown in the U.S. that arrested 15 people—mostly linked to a flea market in Miami-Dade County.
The investigation into ABC Food Market began in March 2013, when an undercover officer used a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program card to buy food and then asked customers for cash, authorities said.
Mithavayani called the undercover officer over and asked if he wanted $5. After the two haggled, Mithavayani fraudulently charged $38.50 worth of “food” to the card and gave the officer $20 in cash, Mithavayani admitted in court
The undercover officer completed 15 fraudulent cash transactions over a 2 1/2 year period, court records say. Mithavayani approved some of the transactions, but most were approved by his employees.
Prosecutors declined to say what the sentence will be, but included in the court records that Mithavayani owes more than $694,500 in restitution.
The defense is contesting that amount and recommends a penalty of house arrest or 10 to 16 months in federal prison because Mithavayani has no criminal record.
U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga will make her final decision on his punishment at a hearing scheduled for Monday.