An Iraqi immigrant who owned a halal market in Portland, Maine, pleaded guilty to using his store to commit millions of dollars in food stamp fraud.
Ali Ratib Daham, 40, of Westbrook, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of food stamp trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering, and theft of government funds in U.S. District Court in Portland, the Portland Press-Herald reported.
Daham, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen after emigrating from Iraq, conspired with others to defraud the U.S. government of $1.4 million from 2011 to 2016, prosecutors say.
Court documents show that the shop owner gave customers cash in exchange for their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program benefits.
He then redeemed the benefits so the federal government would reimburse him for the full amount, according to court documents.
“The defendant stole from programs designed to provide nutritional items to some of our most vulnerable community members—low-income households, mothers, infants, and children,” U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank said in a statement. “The defendant put his own financial profit above their needs. People who defraud these programs should expect to be brought to justice.”
Daham’s sentencing is expected to be scheduled for the spring of 2018. He faces up to 20 years in prison and is required to pay $1.4 million in restitution.
Food stamp fraud is common in convenience stores that operate mostly in poorer areas of large cities where a majority of clients receive welfare benefits.
In October 12, Floridians were charged with running an alleged $20 million food stamp fraud scheme at several convenience stores in South Florida.
That same month, a judge sentenced three food stamp fraudsters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to several months in prison for conducting a $1.2 million food stamp fraud scheme.
In May, a judge sentenced a Baltimore, Maryland, shop owner to four years behind bars for illegally trafficking $3.7 million worth of food stamps and ordered him to pay restitution.