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Document and Benefit Fraud
04/28/2011

Grocer and 2 employees arrested for food-stamp fraud

Local supermarket used to commit food-stamp fraud

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - The owner of a local dollar supermarket and two of his employees were arrested on Tuesday, after a federal grand jury indicted the three men for food-stamp fraud, and other charges. The arrests were announced by U.S. Attorney José Angel Moreno, Southern District of Texas. The investigation is being conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Office of Inspector General.

Parviz Sheikh Rezaei, 55, owner of Pariz Dollar Supermarket in Brownsville, Texas, was arrested April 26 on the following charges: fraud under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food-stamp fraud, wire fraud; money laundering; money structuring; and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business. Gabriel Garza and Juan David Fernandez, employees of Pariz Dollar Supermarket, were also arrested on Tuesday for food stamp fraud. All three defendants appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Felix Recio on April 26 and have been ordered temporarily detained until their arraignment April 29,. at which time the issue of bond will be decided.

"Aggressive prosecution of programmatic fraud is essential to safeguarding the benefits of deserving recipients," said U.S. Attorney Moreno. "Those who enrich themselves by preying on the less fortunate of our society should expect to be prosecuted."

The allegations in the indictment were filed under seal on April 12, and unsealed Wednesday following the appearance of the defendants. According to these court documents, Sheikh Rezaei repeatedly exchanged Lone Star card benefits from participants in the food stamp program for discounted amounts of cash, and then charged the government for the full value of the Lone Star card transaction. All three defendants are accused of conspiring together to defraud SNAP by engaging in similar illicit transactions with federal law enforcement agents working in an undercover capacity.

The SNAP program allocates federal funds to be administered by the states to alleviate hunger and malnutrition. In 1995, the Health and Human Services Commission converted to an electronic benefit transfer system in Cameron County as a means to more effectively deliver SNAP benefits to program participants. Instead of paper food stamps, Texas participants were given electronic benefit transfer cards, known as Lone Star cards.

If convicted, fraud under SNAP is punishable by a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, when, as alleged in this case, the benefits exceed a value of $5,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ana Cano, Southern District of Texas, is prosecuting the case.