Couple Gambles on Judge’s Decision in Fraud Case

In this rear view, an unrecognizable woman stands with a shopping cart in front of a shelf full of food in the bread aisle of a grocery store.

A New Jersey couple is rolling the dice on a court decision as to whether their bankruptcy status protects them from having to repay the federal nutrition benefits program that prosecutors say they defrauded.

Mustafa and Rahime Ozturk, both in their 30s, were charged last year in a 16-count indictment alleging theft, conspiracy, and falsifying records to illegally collect food vouchers from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

An investigation by the state Division of Social Services found that the couple did not qualify for the needs-based program and, in fact, owned several gas stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania when they allegedly defrauded the food stamp program between 2014 and 2017. They filed for bankruptcy in 2018.

State prosecutors offered plea deals under which the Ozturks would have to repay the county $26,128 but would receive only probation and no jail time. (Sounds like a good deal!)

The Vineland couple, through separate attorneys, refused the plea offer, saying that bankruptcy protection relieves them from having to repay the money. (That’s pretty bold of them.) Prosecutors say that bankruptcy has no bearing on criminal proceedings. Now a judge will decide. (They better hope the judge agrees. The next plea deal likely won’t be generous, if there is one at all.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from the article, “Vineland couple in food stamp case say they don’t have to pay back money,” published Jan. 14, 2020 in the Vineland Daily Journal.

BRIDGETON – A Vineland couple charged with taking thousands of dollars in an alleged food stamp scam are rejecting a plea deal, claiming a recent bankruptcy means they don’t have to pay back the money.

The couple, Mustafa Ozturk, 35, and Rahime Ozturk, 38, fraudulently received $26,128 in food stamps over several years while concealing that they owned gas stations in two states from the Cumberland County Division of Social Services, court records state.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.