HAMMOND — Federal authorities are charging a Gary grocer with illegally trading his customers' food stamp benefits for cash.
The U.S. Attorney’s office charged Mohammad Zaiden late last week with wire fraud.
Zaiden has signed a plea agreement to avoid a lengthy prison term.
Government papers allege Zaiden owned the Tarrytown Food Mart, 2075 Clark Road in Gary, which was authorized to provide Hoosiers with benefits under the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamp program.
The government alleges Tarrytown defrauded SNAP of more than $5.1 million between December 2015 and last November.
The government said customers of Zaiden’s Tarrytown store would bring grocery items to the cashiers to be rung up, used food stamps to pay for the items, then asked for cash back, too.
The store would charge the SNAP program for an amount in excess of the groceries’ price and split that amount, in cash, between the customer and Zaiden.
The U.S. Attorney’s office stated in court papers Zaiden could face up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted of the scheme.
Zaiden has agreed to waive his right to a jury trial and plead guilty to wire fraud in return for a more lenient sentence.
Zaiden also agreed to pay the government $5.1 million in restitution.
Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail
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