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7 nabbed in Nassau County food stamp fraud sting

Shopkeepers and workers at five Nassau County stores took food stamps as payment from undercover investigators for prohibited items like cigarettes and alcohol and gave cash kickbacks, according to the Nassau County district attorney's office.

The investigation, dubbed "Operation Hungry Lion," began in July 2007 when an informant alerted the Long Beach Police Department. Undercover investigators from the district attorney's office then were able to get money in exchange for their food stamp benefits, District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a news release.

Employees at the five stores would charge food stamp cards $250, keep $100 and give the undercover investigators $150 as a kickback, Rice said.

The investigators were also able to illegally buy alcohol, cigarettes, phone cards and CDs with their food stamp cards at these stores, according to Rice.

"Food stamp benefits are meant for members of our society who need assistance putting food on their family's table, not for store owners to make a quick buck or benefit recipients to buy alcohol and cigarettes," Rice said. "My office will continue to pursue criminals who line their pockets at the expense of Nassau County taxpayers."

Of the seven charged, Jose Toribio, 30, of Queens, the owner of J & J Deli-Grocery in Long Beach, faces the most prison time if convicted - up to 7 years.

Both Toribio and his business are charged with misuse of food stamps, food stamp program coupons, authorization cards and electronic access devices as a D felony, and grand larceny in the third degree. J & J Deli-Grocery defrauded the food stamp program of $6,223 in unauthorized purchases and cash exchanges, Rice said.

Toribio was being unfairly scrutinized, said his lawyer, Eli Jaghab of Mineola. "Bottom line, he's been put under a microscope to the point where they close him up," Jaghab said. "We cooperated with police. We did everything we had to do."

Toribio's next court date is Monday at County Court in Mineola.

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