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09/21/2011

Grocery store owners, food stamp recipient plead guilty in fraud case

WICHITA, Kan. — The owners of a local grocery store and a food stamp recipient pleaded guilty on Wednesday to food stamp fraud, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and other agencies.

Muhammad Qadeer Akram, 46, and his wife, Shama L. Qadeer, 38, the former owners of Alnoor Grocery Store, both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud, food stamp fraud and wire fraud. Tequita L. Higgins, 28, a food stamp recipient, pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud.

In their pleas, Muhammad Qadeer Akram and Shama Qadeer admitted to entering into a conspiracy with others to defraud the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by giving cash to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, more commonly known as food stamps, in exchange for SNAP benefits.

The scheme involved giving SNAP recipients cash for their benefits, about 50 to 60 cents on the dollar, and keeping the rest of the benefits for themselves. The store owners ran SNAP transactions to make it appear as if SNAP benefits were being used to purchase approved food items.

On Nov. 5, 2010, the couple gave a SNAP recipient about $150 in cash in return for SNAP benefits totaling $308.79. They gave the SNAP recipient $250 and falsified reports to make it appear that the recipient had purchased approved food items. The indictment alleges $450,000 in similar transactions. In her plea, Higgins admitted using her Vision card at Alnoor Groceries. She received about $150 in cash in return for a $308.79 SNAP transaction.

Sentencing is set for Dec. 7. The defendants each face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison without parole, and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and food stamp fraud charges. Wire fraud is punishable by a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison without parole and a $100,000 fine.

In addition to ICE HSI, the following agencies participated in the investigation: USDA's Office of Inspector General, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the Wichita Police Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service.