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12 Floridians Charged with Running Alleged $20 Million Food Stamp Fraud Scheme

Twelve Floridians have been charged with running an alleged $20 million food stamp fraud scheme in one of the “largest” food stamp fraud crackdowns in history, according to the Justice Department.

Federal prosecutors told the Miami Herald that the 12 defendants who reportedly defrauded the federal government of $20 million were charged with food stamp fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The list of those charged include Mohammed Alobaisi, 37; Mohammad Alteen, 33; Joe Ann Baker, 56; Reynold Francois, 38;  Omar Hajje, 43; Jalal Hajyousef, 42; Andy Javier Herrera, 24, and his father, Javier Herrera, 49; Ihab Hassouna, 44; Maria Jerdana, 36; Hasan Saleh, 59; and Yousef “Joe” Homedan Zahran, 60.

“In this instance, eight small convenience stores in South Florida committed a staggering amount of fraud in a relatively short amount of time,” said Karen Citizen-Wilcox, special agent in charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of the Inspector General, in a press release.

Some of the defendants owned, operated, or worked at retailers who accepted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as payment. Others worked at unauthorized stores, but allegedly used point-of-sale terminals of authorized retailers to carry out the fraudulent transactions.

“These retailers created an illegal benefits exchange system that defrauded the American taxpayer and denied healthy foods to needy children and their families. The store owners who allegedly orchestrated this trafficking scheme pocketed millions in ‘fees’ which they charged for converting food assistance benefits into cash,” Citizen-Wilcox said.

Out of all the defendants charged, the Herreras are accused of defrauding the most out of the federal government. Andy Herrera, owner of Santa Ana Market II in Miami, and his father allegedly committed $10 million worth of food stamp fraud from April 2012 to September 2017, accounting for half of the $20 million food stamp fraud scheme.

Store owners and employees who commit food stamp fraud face steep consequences.

A judge sentenced three food stamp fraudsters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to several months in prison for carrying out a $1.2 million food stamp fraud scheme.

In August, a judge sentenced a Kentucky store owner to 66 months in prison for engaging in $409,000 worth of food stamp fraud.

Three months before the Kentucky case, a judge sentenced a Baltimore, Maryland, store owner to four years in prison for illegally trafficking $3.7 million worth of food stamps and ordered him to pay restitution.

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