US Attorney: Baltimore grocers defrauded $1.5 million from food stamp scheme

BALTIMORE - Two Baltimore grocery operators are facing 25 years in prison for defrauding the federal government out of $1.5 million in an apparent scheme to trade food stamp credits for cash.

Abdulmalik Abdulla, 37, and Ahmed Mohssen, 53, were arrested Friday on federal charges of conspiracy to commit food stamp and wire fraud, according to a release from the Office of U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

"Retailers who trade food stamp credits for cash are on notice that federal authorities are on their trail," U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a release.  "Taxpayers fund the program to provide food for needy recipients, not to turn retail store cash registers into ATM machines."

Federal agents executed warrants on the defendants' place of business -- Sam's NY grocery on North Milton Street in Baltimore -- and other related locations Friday.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly referred to as the Food Stamp Program, affords low-income individuals the ability to purchase food of a more nutritious diet via an electronic benefit transfer card, the release states.  

"The criminal complaint alleges that the defendants exchanged EBT benefits for cash, typically paying half the value of the EBT benefits in cash," the release states. "As a result of unlawful cash transactions, the defendants allegedly obtained more than $1.5 million in EBT deposits for transactions in which the store did not provide food."

The defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, and a maximum of five years in prison for conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud, the release states.

In separate cases, 10 people were charged with food stamp fraud in September 2013, of which four defendants have already pleaded guilty.

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