A Riverhead couple who own a convenience store on East Main Street were indicted Thursday on charges of swindling more than $600,000 from the government over three years by charging nonexistent purchases on food stamp debit cards.
Ravinder Parkash, 59, and his wife, Prabha Rani, 58, processed $329,000 in food stamp transactions in 2012 alone -- far more than other stores in the area handled that year, the state attorney general's office said.
Parkash pleaded not guilty Thursday at his arraignment on multiple charges in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead. Judge James Hudson set bail at $250,000 cash or $500,000 bond.
According to the indictment, Parkash and Rani used taxpayer-funded debit cards issued to food stamp recipients to make bogus purchases at their Snack Shop store.They then split the proceeds with more than two dozen recipients.
Parkash's attorney, Scott Zerner of Riverhead, told the judge that the state had frozen his client's assets and that he could not post bail.
Zerner noted that Parkash has made all of his scheduled appearances in Riverhead Town Court since his arrest in April 2012 on charges of selling alcohol to a minor.
The indictment unsealed Thursday also charged 24 food stamp recipients with felony grand larceny for their role in the scheme, which has been going on since April 2010, according to the state.
Assistant Attorney General Tyler Reynolds, who had sought $1 million bail for Parkash, did not seek bail on most of those defendants, and they were released.
Parkash was charged with second-degree grand larceny, second-degree money laundering, misuse of food stamps, four counts of first-degree falsifying business records and conspiracy.
He faces up to 15 years in prison on the most serious charges, but Reynolds said the state might seek consecutive sentences.
Rani was charged with third-degree grand larceny, first-degree falsifying business records, misuse of food stamps and conspiracy. She faces up to 7 years in prison.
Rani was held on $100,000 cash or $250,000 bond. The next court date for her and Parkash is July 9.
The food stamp recipients face up to 4 years in prison, authorities said.
With Gary Dymski