An Ohio man who pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud charges in 1994 and fled to the Middle East before being captured in June was sentenced to 4 1/2 years in federal prison Thursday, Cleveland.com reported.
Najeh Ottallah, 54, was charged with illegally redeeming food stamps for cash and other violations along with his brother, Mahmoud Ottallah. They co-owned the the Quincy Eagle Super Market on Quincy Avenue in Cleveland.
U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent said Ottallah’s sentence would have likely been between 21 and 27 months in prison if he hadn’t fled the U.S., accepted his punishment, and cooperated with authorities.
As part of his sentence, Otallah is also required to pay $3.2 million in restitution to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and $35,576 to the IRS, WKYC reported.
Ottallah pleaded guilty in 1994 to three food stamp fraud charges, but he filed a motion in court to get permission to travel to Israel to visit his family for two weeks before his sentence began.
The judge granted the request and Ottallah, a U.S. citizen with a home in Lakewood, never returned.
Ottallah was apprehended after 22 years on an INTERPOL warrant at a U.S. consulate in Jerusalem while trying to renew his expired U.S. passport, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karrie Howard said.
Towards the end of the sentencing hearing, defense attorney Kent Minshall asked Nugent if he could go free on bond to visit his family before serving his sentence.
Nugent replied, “under these circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to take another chance.”