The owners of three Hempstead food stores and several employees have been charged with trafficking food stamps in a $1.3 million scam, Nassau County and federal officials said after a three-year probe.
Happy MiniMarket, Franklin Street MiniMarket and Franklin Street Grocery billed phony sales to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, and split the cash with undercover investigators posing as SNAP beneficiaries, according to county prosecutors, police and the U.S. Agriculture Department's inspector general office.
The investigation, which started in 2012 and continued into this month, found Happy MiniMarket made $3,904.92 in unauthorized undercover transactions, Franklin Street Grocery $2,944.50 and Franklin Street MiniMarket $2,472.18, officials said. Each store also billed SNAP for cigarettes and beer, which the program does not cover, authorities said.
Federal officials estimated the stores rang up a total of $1.3 million in phony sales during a two-year period, a figure based on several factors, including total sales volume and typical sales charges.
"Public assistance programs are supposed to be for people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families, not for store owners and their employees to line their pockets and profit at the expense of taxpayers and the people that need food stamp benefits the most," said Nassau acting District Attorney Madeline Singas.
Arrest warrants were issued for Happy MiniMarket's owner, Remigio Betances, 53, of Brooklyn, and Franklin Street MiniMarket's co-owner Median Hammud, 36, of East Meadow, prosecutors said.
Franklin Street MiniMarket's other owner, Hashim Alzundani, 26, of Uniondale, and Franklin Street Grocery's owner, Sameer Shahin, 51, of North Bellmore, were each charged with second-degree grand larceny; misuse of food stamp and related items, and first-degree falsifying business records.
Five former or current employees were arraigned on food stamp fraud and petty larceny, authorities said.
The owners could be reached at their homes and stores Wednesday night.