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Feds: $500K Stolen in Food Stamp Fraud at Waukegan Grocery Store
Updated: Thursday, 23 Jun 2011, 2:09 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 23 Jun 2011, 2:09 PM CDT

Sun-Times Media Wire

Waukegan, Ill. - After a north suburban couple's grocery store was searched during a food stamp and nutrition program fraud investigation, the woman was caught trying to flee with more than $350,000 in a suitcase, federal prosecutors claim.

The couple, who own and operate Sunset Food Market in Waukegan, allegedly defrauded the federal food stamp and nutrition programs of more than $500,000 over the last two years, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney's office.

Khaled Saleh, 46, and Fatima Saleh, 35, of Waukegan are charged with one count each of conspiracy to defraud government programs and one count of Agriculture Department program fraud in a two-count indictment returned Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Chicago.

The complaint alleges they exchanged cash with customers who made falsely inflated purchases using food stamp cards and nutrition coupons. They also allegedly purchased items, typically infant formula, that customers bought at other stores using program benefits, paying half of the value and then re-selling the items in their store at a higher price.

The charges followed an investigation in which a USDA Inspector General's office agent, acting undercover, used program benefits to buy formula at a discount store, then sold it for half the price in cash to the Salehs on several occasions, the release said.

Agents executed a search warrant at Sunset Market on April 26. After the search, Fatima Saleh went to her apartment and agents observed her leaving a short time later with a suitcase and her mother, the release said.

Agents found more than $350,000 cash and more than 800 coupon vouchers for the WIC supplemental food program in the suitcase, the release said. Agents later found another $25,000 in cash in the apartment.

The indictment seeks forfeiture of about $377,000 seized on April 26, as well as more than $14,500 seized from Sunset Market’s bank account.

Between August 2009 and April 2011, the defendants redeemed more than $1.175 million in LINK food stamp and WIC coupons, with more than $500,000 being obtained through fraud, the indictment alleges. The store’s participation in the programs has been suspended.

Court documents also allege that Fatima Saleh applied for and received LINK benefits and WIC coupons for herself, the complaint alleges. In 2010, she received WIC vouchers and as much as $952 a month in LINK benefits, and as late as May 2011, she was receiving $738 a month in food stamp benefits.

The Salehs remain free on bond and will be arraigned at a later date, the release said. Each count of the indictment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
This same story is also on MSNBC.Com ..

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