WICHITA, Kan. -- A federal grand jury indicted 13 people Tuesday in two related cash-for-food-stamp benefit fraud cases involving a total of more than a $580,000 in food stamps. The indictments resulted from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Office of Inspector General, with assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS), the Wichita Police Department, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
The indictments, which were returned March 1, involve two small Wichita stores where food stamps allegedly were redeemed for cash for 50 to 60 cents on the dollar. The stores are Alnoor Grocery and Biryani House, 5220 E. 21st St., and Kansas Food Market, 2600 N. Arkansas. The proprietors of both stores are charged in separate indictments.
"It is unlawful for recipients to abuse the benefits they receive from the federal government in this way," said U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, District of Kansas. "And it is equally unlawful for those entrusted to sell food in exchange for the benefits to abuse the system."
The proprietor of Alnoor Grocery,Muhammad Qadeer Akram, 46, and his wife, Shama Qadeer, 37, as well as the proprietor of Kansas Food Market, Ahmed Ajami Al-Maleki, 40, all of Wichita, each were charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the USDA, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as "food stamps." They also were charged with multiple counts of food stamp and wire fraud, according to the indictments.
Charged in both indictments is Wally Mikhael Gaggo, 48, who is accused of being a "runner" who obtains food-stamp account cards and PIN numbers for the transactions, and then returns cash to recipients providing the account information. The indictments allege that Gaggo received about 10 percent of the transactions, in cash, for his part in the alleged scheme.
Gaggo is also alleged to have sought out SNAP recipients who congregate at places like the Drop-in-Center at 353 N. Market. He allegedly obtained their Vision Card or account numbers, ran the transactions through Kansas Food Market, then returned cash to the SNAP recipient, sometimes at a parking lot at 3rd and Broadway near the U.S. Courthouse. Those recipients tend to be unemployed and often are homeless, Grissom said.
In addition, the following 10 recipients were charged based on the frequency of transactions, dollar amounts and the nature of the evidence as to those defendants.
Alnoor Grocery and Biryani House
- Sobhi O. Dana, 56, Wichita. Dana is charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of food stamp fraud, and two counts of wire fraud;
- Laura S. Kemble, 33, Wichita. Kemble is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of food stamp fraud, and one count of wire fraud;
- Angela N. Norwood, 37, Wichita. Norwood is charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of food stamp fraud, and three counts of wire fraud;
- Tequita L. Higgins, 27, Wichita. Higgins is charged with one count of conspiracy, one count of food stamp fraud, and one count of wire fraud;
- Misty R. Rivera, 28, Wichita. Rivera is charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of food stamp fraud, and two counts of wire fraud.
Kansas Food Market
- Joseph H. Morgan, 49, Wichita. Morgan is charged with one count of conspiracy, three counts of food stamp fraud, and three counts of wire fraud;
- Hezekiah H. McGhee, 48, Wichita. McGhee is charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of food stamp fraud, and two counts of wire fraud;
- Mpeka F. Magari, 30, Wichita. Magari is charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of food stamp fraud, and two counts of wire fraud;
- Jason D. Kemp, 35, Wichita. Kemp is charged with one count of conspiracy, two counts of food stamp fraud, and two counts of wire fraud.
The Alnoor Grocery indictment alleges that the SNAP recipients entered the store, had their Kansas Vision cards swiped in amounts ranging from $100 to $500, and then left the store without any groceries. The indictment also describes transactions involving undercover police officers in which cash allegedly was obtained from Shama Qadeer after fictitious purchase amounts were run through a SNAP terminal in the store.
The Kansas Food Market indictment alleges that defendant Gaggo would obtain Kansas Vision cards or account numbers, and PIN numbers, from recipients on the street. Then defendant Al-Maleki allegedly ran the transactions on KFM's SNAP terminal and paid cash to the SNAP recipients.
SRS manages the SNAP program in Kansas under a contract with USDA and assisted in the investigations. Food stamp benefits are credited monthly to accounts accessed through the use of a "Kansas Vision" EBT card, which recipients use for various benefits administered through SRS.
The conspiracy charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, as do the food stamp counts. The wire fraud counts carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson, District of Kansas, is prosecuting the case. As in any criminal case, a person indicted for a crime is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.