August 24, 2011

Arizona: 18 Indicted in Food Stamp Fraud Investigation

FOX Phoenix local news
written by Staff
July 14, 2011

PHOENIX - A 15-month, multi-agency operation has uncovered a scam that has defrauded the food stamp program of more than $700,000.

Thursday, search warrants and indictments were handed down to individuals and retailers involved in defrauding the federal food stamp program.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer stated, "We know that most recipients of public benefits play by the rules, but today's bust proves once again that some do not. With anti-fraud efforts at DES and collaboration with state, local and federal authorities, we will continue to weed out the scammers and schemers who abuse our public trust."

The federal food stamp program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides qualifying low-income families the ability to purchase food items with EBT cards.

Through an undercover operation, authorities determined that some retailers were participating in the illegal redemption of benefits. They were paying EBT cardholders in cash for half of the value of their food stamp benefits, then pocketing the remainder.

So far, 18 people have been indicted, and search warrants were executed at four locations Thursday -- three in Phoenix and one in Mesa. The suspects are charged with counts including: unlawful use of food stamps; unlawful use of a credit card; fraudulent schemes and artifices; illegal control of an enterprise and asset forfeiture.

The Arizona Attorney General's Office is prosecuting. Some of those indicted have not yet been taken into custody.

"Conducting investigations into food stamp trafficking by vendors and recipients is a major investigative area for the USDA - Office of the Inspector General," said USDA Special Agent-in-Charge Lori Chan. "In this particular case, the retailers involved collaborated, from approximately March 2010 to the present, by purchasing SNAP EBT benefits from recipients at a discounted rate."

Incomplete list of suspects charged:

Zine Abidine Douh El Idrissi, 47
Guadalupe Gamez-Moreno, 23
Alejandro Moreno Torrs, 36
Elias Hernandez-Carreno, 32
Maria Cruz Becerra, 20
Elicia Baker, 59
Brandon Nguyen, 43
Sarhad Kasmarogi, 44
Hilal Oraha Haio, 40

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