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Suffolk store owners sentenced in food stamp scheme

Two Suffolk County store owners have been sentenced for stealing a combined $1.6 million from the federal government by exchanging food stamps for cash and then submitting phony invoices to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ravinder Parkash, 60, of Riverhead, who owns a gas station in Riverhead, was sentenced Wednesday in Suffolk County Supreme Court to up to 4 years in prison for stealing more than $668,000. He was also ordered to pay $566,000 in restitution.

Parkash's wife, Prabha Rani, 59, previously admitted her role in the scheme and will serve 60 days in jail.

Sajjad Rashid, 43, of Rocky Point, the owner of Mastic Supermarket, was sentenced to up to 7 1/2 years in prison and ordered to pay back nearly $975,000 to the USDA.

"Both of these schemes not only ripped off taxpayers, but also the many New Yorkers in need who depend on food stamp benefits," said Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

Prosecutors said Parkash and Rashid orchestrated a fraud from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

On hundreds of occasions during four years, SNAP recipients presented benefit cards that can be legally exchanged for groceries at the two Suffolk stores, Schneiderman said.

But prosecutors said Parkash and Rashid rang up no groceries and instead split the cash value of the sham purchases with the customer. The USDA then reimbursed the defendants the value of the bogus transaction, authorities said.

Another 30 SNAP recipients, including those who were given the benefit cards after superstorm Sandy, have also pleaded guilty to misuse of food stamps.

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