SCHENECTADY — Five people, including employees of four bodegas in the city, have been arrested in connection with what authorities say is a sweeping food stamp benefit fraud scheme.
Benefit recipients allegedly used their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase items like energy drinks, cigarettes and groceries at area stores, which they then resold to bodega workers at a reduced rate for cash, mostly for 50 cents on the dollar. The items could then be resold for a profit. Also, items that were shoplifted in some area stores were resold at area bodegas, officials said.
- Abdallah Mohamed, 56, has been charged with six first-degree counts of falsifying business records, all felonies, while working at Lucky Market at 752 Albany St. last December.
- Rayed Algohim, 39, has been charged with three first-degree counts of falsifying business records, all felonies, while working at Ammar Supermarket at 808 Albany St. between November and January.
- Mohammed Alqwrami, 32, has been charged with one first-degree count of falsifying business records and two counts of fifth-degree attempted criminal possession of stolen property, all felonies, while working at Manhattan Deli at 315 Craig St. He also faces one count of petty larceny and one count of misuse of food stamps, food stamp coupons, authorization cards and electric access devices.
- Jaber Alsaidi, 43, has been charged with two misdemeanor counts related to selling untaxed cigarettes.
- Wadhah Al-Raayani, 35, has been charged with two first-degree counts of falsifying business records, felonies, two misdemeanor counts of petty larceny, and two misdemeanor counts of misuse of food stamps while working at Quinn’s Deli at 1114 Albany St.
All were arraigned before Schenectady City Court Judge Tameka Frost and released on their own recognizance pending further court proceedings, according to the county Sheriff’s Department.
The arrests are the result of a year-long operation by the Schenectady County Street Crimes Task Force, which worked with the city Police Department’s Office of Central Intelligence to flag six stores in the city as hot spots based on the criteria of call volume and nature of complaints and arrests at and around the stores. That investigation led to investigation of the EBT scheme.
Most of the schemes are similar.
Authorities allege Mohamed twice paid cash for two boxes of beef patties from Avon Meat Market knowing they had been purchased using an EBT card.
The beneficiary paid $96 and sold the patties to Mohamed for $47 and $45, respectively, according to charging documents.
In another instance on Dec. 11, Mohamed allegedly paid $20 for four packs of butter, four packs of bacon and five packs of hot dogs purchased for $50.07 at Hannaford in Rotterdam.
Alqwrami allegedly engaged in similar schemes, giving $16 to an individual who purchased four 4-packs of Monster Energy drink for $32.76.
He is also accused of purchasing two pairs of Beat EP headphones and an iPhone 6X he knew to be stolen.
Algohim allegedly on three occasions sold packs of Newport cigarettes instead of food items in exchange for an unspecified monetary payments via an EBT card.
Officials said the crimes often overlap with shoplifting at retailers across the county.
“This investigation serves to detail the cross jurisdictional component where retail theft and other criminal behavior intersects with local neighborhood stores where stolen property is taken in or resold along with additional criminal and nuisance activity which occurs at or around these establishments,” said the Sheriff’s Department in a statement.
Warrants have been issued for other subjects and additional arrests are expected, officials said.
The task force partnered with numerous agencies in the operation, including the Schenectady Police Department, county District Attorney’s Office, New York State Police, the county Department of Social Services, the state Office of Tax and Finance, the city Building and Codes Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.
Security departments of various local retail stores also provided support.