A federal grand jury has indicted the owner of an Obama Express convenience store on charges of food stamp trafficking.
Abdullah Aljaradi, just one of nine store owners in the Baltimore, Maryland area that face these charges, allegedly obtained $2 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, payments for food sales that never happened. Between the nine total storeowners who have been indicted, the total amount of money obtained nears $7 million. Investigators say that no food was ever provided for money obtained.
“Taxpayers fund the food stamp program to put food on the tables of needy recipients, not to put money in the pockets of greedy criminals,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Food producers and distributors benefit when food stamp funds are used to buy food, and honest storeowners work hard to earn a profit by actually selling food. People who play by the rules deserve to know that criminals who defraud them will be held accountable.”
Federal agents initiated the investigation by using undercover tactics to see first hand what the stores were doing with the SNAP payments. According the reports, “FBI agents observed the Obama store and watched dozens of customers leave after conducting transactions with either no items or a small item such as a soda, even as records showed that about half the transactions had been for more than $40.”
The FBI then sent in people wearing wires to “sell stamps,” and it was soon discovered that the storeowners would debit the money from the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards over the course of hours or days in an attempt to not get caught.
If the storeowners are convicted, they could each face 20 years in prison.
The Obama Express store came about after the 2009 election of President Barack Obama when a small Florida grocery store changed its name in honor of the President. Now, there are numerous other stores like it across the country, including the one owned by Aljaradi in Baltimore.