Fueling Fraud

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Criminals commit fraudulent acts for all sorts of reasons. They may be under financial pressure, need to support an addictive habit or just because they can. A story posted on Syracuse.com tells the story of the widow of a murdered pizzeria owner and an employee who allegedly abused the welfare system through the acceptance of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) funds. (The alleged scam may be linked to the theft of welfare benefits from mentally ill patients residing in state facilities.)

The article states that the pizzeria owner’s widow and employee allegedly exchanged unallowable items including cash, beer, cigarettes and prepared foods for EBT card benefits. (Supposedly the two then used the government funds to buy items for themselves or purchase products to resell at the eatery.)

One witness in the case – a state employee at a Syracuse-based psychiatric center – told law enforcement that he stole EBT cards from patients at the facility where he worked, then traded them for cash for half of their value at the pizzeria. (Apparently, he needed the funds to fuel his cocaine habit and buy expensive food items, such as crab legs and steak. If only all food stamp beneficiaries could dine on such high-end food items.) The witness stopped exchanging the stolen benefits at the pizzeria following the murder of the restaurant owner. His confession to police led to the welfare abuse charges of the widow, who is now the pizzeria owner, and her employee.

The 34-year-old widow and her 27-year-old employee are charged with making more than $11,000 in fraudulent purchases over a three-year period of time. If convicted, they face up to seven years in prison for their alleged crime. In a separate case, the witness, who stole $17,000 in benefits, was sentenced to six months in jail and lost his job at the psychiatric center. (Another dozen people involved in the broader benefits theft probe have also been found guilty and sentenced.)

No matter how criminals fuel the desire to commit their fraudulent acts, they tend to forget that there are always consequences to pay when caught. (Fraudsters usually don’t think about that when they initially set out to steal money they don’t deserve.) The outcome of this case is yet to be determined, but for now it appears that any potential abuse against the system, which is intended to help needy deserving beneficiaries, is out of gas.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on an article titled, ”Widow of Murdered Syracuse Pizzeria Owner Accused of Welfare Fraud,” written by Douglass Dowty and posted on Syracuse.com on April 9, 2015.

Syracuse, NY — The widow of a murdered Syracuse pizzeria owner was charged today with abusing the welfare system with another employee at Sabatino’s Pizzeria and Deli on Ballantyne Road in Syracuse.

Julia Shqair, 34, and an associate, Haider Alwaeli, 27, both of Syracuse, are accused of making more than $11,000 in fraudulent purchases between 2012 and 2014 as part of the scheme. They were arraigned today in Syracuse City Court.

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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.