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Bader Al-Dhumani, 56, of Erie, Penn., pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud as owner of Palm Tree Market. He accepted food stamps in exchange for cash, store credit, and ineligible items. (When retailers apply to become a SNAP-authorized retailer, they must agree to certain conditions. It appears that this store owner broke quite a few rules.)

The SNAP program allows beneficiaries to purchase fruits and vegetables; meat, poultry, and fish; dairy products, breads and cereals; snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages; and seeds and plants that can produce food that household members can consume. Anything else is not allowed. (That seems reasonable enough.)

Between January 2015 and April 2020, Al-Dhumani took his customers’ PA Access Cards, the state’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that provides food stamp benefits, and used those government funds to buy inventory for his store. (How clever. The approved SNAP retailer was using your tax dollars to make a profit.)

Approximately 42 million Americans (or one in seven) receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamp benefits from the U.S. Government. (These statistics indicate that hunger is a huge issue.)

According to an article published by NPR, 81 percent of SNAP recipients are either part of a working family, someone with a severe disability, or a senior citizen living on a fixed income. The bottom line is that these people are a mix of individuals who are struggling to make ends meet on a small income, or they are currently unemployed.

The crime that Al-Dhumani committed is against those people who receive SNAP benefits and also against honest American workers who pay their taxes. The Food and Nutrition Service estimates that the cost of trafficked food stamps is more than $1 billion each year, but the General Accountability Office (GAO) estimates the real cost could be up to $4.7 billion. (He’s clearly not the only retailer that has been hungry to commit SNAP fraud.)

When sentenced in April 2022, Al-Dhumani could get a prison sentence of up to twenty years, a $250,000 fine, or both. (It all depends on how serious the judge thinks this offense is and whether the defendant has a prior criminal record.) Until the sentencing date, this fraudster is continued on bond. (That means he needs a really good criminal attorney.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Erie Market Owner Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Food Stamp Program,” dated December 13, 2021.

ERIE, Pa. – A resident of Erie, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of food stamp fraud, United States Attorney Cindy K. Chung announced today.

Bader Al-Dhumani, 56, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge Susan Paradise Baxter.

 

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