Bridgeport Grocery Retailer Sued in Trafficking Scheme
Involving SNAP Electronic Benefit Cards
The state is suing a Bridgeport store owner alleging he engaged in a wide-ranging scheme to obtain electronic benefit cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), formerly known as the Food Stamp program, and used them to purchase inventory for his store in violation of federal and state law.
Attorney General George Jepsen and Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby said today that the civil complaint names Saaid Cherkaoui, doing business under the name Slim’s Deli Market, a grocery and convenience store. The suit was brought at the request of Consumer Protection Commissioner William Rubenstein.
The state is seeking civil penalties of $5,000 for every violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act and disgorgement of all revenues, profits and gains Cherkaoui may have realized from the alleged scheme, which began as early as March 1, 2011 and continued through at least October 6, 2012.
“The alleged misuse of these benefit cards diverts taxpayer nutrition assistance funds from those who need it most – especially children -- and is an abuse of public trust,” said Attorney General Jepsen. “The state also has an interest in assuring an honest marketplace, in which economic activity is conducted without fraud or deception.”
Commissioner Bremby said, “This is an especially interesting case because it involves a civil action by the state in the overall drive to safeguard the purpose and integrity of the SNAP program. While the particular situation does not typify SNAP as a whole, the investigation underscores renewed emphasis at both the federal and state levels to root out fraud and abuse with all of the methods at our disposal.”
The SNAP program is a federally funded food sustenance program that provides assistance to low-income individuals and families at risk of undernourishment.
SNAP benefits are provided to authorized beneficiaries through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (“EBT”) card which can be used like a debit card to purchase groceries. SNAP benefits cannot be used to purchase non-food items such as cigarettes and alcohol, but the cards or card numbers with security codes are sometimes sold by beneficiaries for cash, drugs or alcohol.
The state’s complaint alleged that Cherkaoui used hundreds of trafficked and/or unauthorized EBT cards to purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goods typically sold at convenience stores, such as energy drinks, candy bars and beef jerky, from BJs Wholesale stores over the 19-month period.
The alleged fraud was initially investigated by the Department of Social Services. DSS operates a fraud reporting hotline at 1-800-842-2155, and an e-mail link at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Assistant Attorneys General Gary Becker, Karen Haabestad and Jeremy Pearlman, and Legal Intern Sean Myers, with Assistant Attorney General Michael Cole, chief of the Antitrust and Government Program Fraud Department are assisting the Attorney General with this matter.