News


Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agents, Miami-Dade Police, FBI Arrest 14 People in Food Stamp Fraud Investigation in South Florida; Additional Arrest Occurs in Kissimmee

7/31/2007
 
Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agents and other investigators have arrested two brothers, a business associate and 11 food stamp recipients on charges of defrauding the state out of more than $4.2 million through electronic food stamp benefits (EBT) cards.

Jehad Hasan, 38, of Kissimmee, the former registered owner of Gina's Supermarket, which now is called Diamond's Grocery Store Inc., along with employee Naser Hasan, 36, of Miami, and store manager Mohamad Issa, 44, of Miami, were picked up in early morning sweeps today in South and Central Florida.

Jehad Hasan was charged with one count of grand theft; four counts of public assistance fraud; one count of organized scheme to defraud; and one count of fraud by person authorized to provide goods or services. His brother, Naser Hasan, was charged with four counts of public assistance fraud.

Store manager Mohamad Issa was charged with eight counts of money laundering/evading reporting and registration requirements; one count of organized scheme to defraud; and one count of grand theft. The arrests occurred as FDLE agents and financial crimes investigators, along with other agencies, executed a search warrant at the market at 6600 N.W. 22nd Ave. in Miami.

FDLE financial crimes investigators and agents alleged the men and food stamp recipients conducted fraudulent transactions through the market by falsifying EBT transactions to show that food items had been purchased. Through those illegal transactions, the store operators were charging the state about twice the amount the recipients received in their 'purchases,' allowing the recipients and store employees to split the cash. Those cash payments ranged from $40 to $200 per transaction.

The state then reimbursed the market for the purported food sales to the food stamp recipients, unaware that the transactions were fraudulent. Afterward, some of those funds were transferred from the store's business account and deposited into the employees' personal accounts. Other times, they withdrew the funds as cash.

"Fraudulently using taxpayer dollars to enrich one's personal bank accounts is a crime and is an injustice to the people who truly need this assistance," said Special Agent in Charge Amos Rojas, Jr., with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. "These funds are designated to provide a vital benefit to members of our community, not to be stolen and diverted like a personal slush fund."

According to FDLE's financial crime investigators, who initiated the investigation, more than 500 cases of food stamp trafficking have been uncovered, resulting in the market doing on average between $100,000 to nearly $200,000 in food stamp charges a month. Food stamps are a taxpayer-funded program designed to feed low-income individuals and families and any other use of the food stamps is prohibited. Converting food stamps into cash is a felony in Florida, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Additional cases of food stamp trafficking will be referred to the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office for review.
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"This $4 million was intended to benefit children and families, to help put food on the tables of the needy," commented Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. "To have individuals plot to fill their pockets at the expense of the disadvantaged is reprehensible."

The case, which was named 'Operation Cash-n-Carry,' began in July 2006 when Gina's Supermarket was identified as a source of possible food stamp trafficking. FDLE financial crimes investigators had been monitoring the electronic food stamp transactions from July 2003 to March 2006 at the small, 24-hour 'mom and pop' store and determined that suspicious transactions were occurring, with some of the recipients traveling from as far away as Hollywood to do business with the Miami store.

In response, FDLE special agents and financial crimes investigators, along with Miami-Dade police, the FBI, Florida Department of Revenue, Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, Hollywood police and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office launched their year-long investigation in July 2006.

The recipients allegedly involved in the public assistance fraud are:

Laronda Herring, 39, of Miami three counts of public assistance fraud

Ingrid T. Anfield, 40, of Miami three counts of public assistance fraud

John Washington, 51, of Opa-locka two counts of public assistance fraud

Sebrena D. Barker, 38, of Miami three counts of public assistance fraud

Shakita D. Gooden, 25, of Miami one count of public assistance fraud

Tracy Yvette Surrency, 38, incarcerated two counts of public assistance fraud

Audrey Ann Cox, 49, of Miami three counts of public assistance fraud

Shawn Elizabeth Counts, 44, of Hollywood three counts of public assistance fraud

Dorothy Marie Lee, 45, of Miami three counts of public assistance fraud

Jessica Catrisse Booker, 43, of Miami one count of public assistance fraud

Phillip Craig Roundtree, 47, of Miami two counts of public assistance fraud

They were arrested this morning by FDLE agents, Miami-Dade police, Hollywood police and the FBI. Four additional recipients are being sought for arrest. The investigation is continuing.

For more information, contact:

Paige Patterson-Hughes
Public Information Officer
FDLE - Miami
(954) 958-5400