Grocery cashier pleads guilty to food stamp fraud in multi-million dollar scheme
A 46-year-old man who worked at his brother’s bodega in East New York pleaded guilty on Monday to stealing millions of dollars in a food-stamp scheme while he worked as a cashier.
Sofyan Saeed, working for his brother, Nashwan Said at Rightway Grocery, was caught exchanging cash for “food stamps” or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits between June 5, 2012 and Jan. 31, 2016, according to court documents.
Undercover agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) caught Saeed in at least five illegal transactions during the investigation, averaging an abnormally high $54.74 per transaction at the 485 New Lots Ave. grocery.
Saeed admitted in Brooklyn’s federal court to giving customers cash in exchange for running their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards for a higher amount, which the federal government would later reimburse.
In the nearly four-year period, Rightway Grocery redeemed a total of $2,458,463.92 in SNAP benefits with about 77 percent through transactions over $50, according to the complaint.
The average transaction for similar stores in New York state was $12.47 during that time.
“I regret the mistakes I made,” Saeed said to federal Judge Allyne Ross through an Arabic interpreter. “I ask the court and for God to forgive me.”
SNAP, previously called the “food stamp program,” uses federal tax dollars to aid low-income households in buying affordable food.
EBT cards are used like debit cards, to swipe at special terminals to use SNAP benefits in exchange for food.
In one instance on Aug. 2, 2012, an undercover agent picked up some items and asked Saeed for cigarettes and $60 cash in exchange for SNAP benefits. Saeed ran the agent’s undercover EBT card for $119.50 and gave the cash and cigarettes, according to a criminal complaint.
Saeed said in court that the money would go to benefit the store, which was owned and managed by his two brothers.
The store was averaging about $50,704.65 in transactions a month with a high of $87,954.65 in September 2015. Other SNAP retailers averaged no higher than $10,852.41 monthly.
Saeed could face more than $100,000 in restitution fees and up to a year and a half in prison, based on sentencing guidelines.
Saeed’s other brother and manager, Amar Saed previously pleaded guilty to participating in the scheme. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and ordered to pay a $296,257.50 restitution fee, according to court filings.
Said, the store’s owner, was expected to plead guilty Monday afternoon.
Saeed is set to be sentenced on Jan. 17.
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