For Immediate Release - November 13, 2013

Waltham Store Manager Pleads Guilty, Sentenced to Jail in Connection with EBT Fraud

Ordered to Pay $34,000 in Restitution

WOBURN – The manager of a Waltham convenience store has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to jail in connection with the fraudulent use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known commonly as “food stamps,” Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced today. He was also ordered to pay $34,000 in restitution.

“This defendant exchanged cash for food stamps and undermined the integrity of a system intended to assist those in need,” said AG Coakley. “Our office is dedicated to working with our federal, state, and local partners to prevent these schemes that defraud the system and the taxpayers.”

Hassan Mounajed, age 31, of Fall River, pleaded guilty today in Middlesex Superior Court to the charges of Procurement Fraud, Conspiracy to Commit Procurement Fraud, Larceny by False Pretenses, Access Device Fraud Over $100 and Conspiracy to Commit Access Device Fraud.

After the plea was entered, Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman sentenced Mounajed to six months in the House of Correction, with 44 months of probation to serve upon his release, during which time he is prohibited from participating in the SNAP program. Judge Tuttman also ordered Mounajed to pay $34,000 in restitution.

“Our joint investigation with our Massachusetts law enforcement partners has brought to justice an individual who sought to profit from the SNAP program through illegal schemes,” said Special Agent-in-Charge William G. Squires Jr. of the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG). “The USDA Office of Inspector General will continue to dedicate resources and work with our state and local law enforcement partners in order to protect the integrity of these programs and to prosecute those who commit fraud.”

“This case, which was investigated through a collaboration of state, local and federal agencies, highlights our joint efforts to protect the integrity of the federal SNAP program,” said Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) Commissioner Stacey Monahan. “DTA recently signed an agreement with the USDA that allows us to work with local law enforcement to investigate and pursue more SNAP fraud and abuse cases like this one. We are working with the Attorney General and law enforcement across the Commonwealth to hold retailers accountable and ensure that taxpayer resources are being used as intended to help low-income residents meet their basic needs.”

In November 2011, the AG’s Office, in conjunction with USDA-OIG, began an investigation into the fraudulent use of EBT SNAP cards. In April, State Police assigned to the AG’s Office and federal USDA-OIG agents executed a search warrant at Mirage Xpressway in Waltham. Further investigation revealed that Mounajed, also known as Sammi Hassan, was the manager of the Mirage Xpressway store in Waltham and was involved in an ongoing scheme to defraud the EBT SNAP program.

The Mirage Xpressway in Waltham is a convenience store that primarily sells beverages, candy and other convenience items. The store is authorized by the USDA to accept SNAP benefits from customers for eligible items. Mounajed engaged in a scheme to traffic SNAP benefits in exchange for cash. As part of the scheme, a customer would present their EBT card to Mounajed or another store clerk. According to authorities, Mounajed or another clerk, per Mounajed’s instruction, would swipe the customer’s EBT card and enter fraudulent information on a dedicated EBT terminal indicating that a customer purchased groceries. Mounajed or the other clerk would furnish cash to the customer for half of the amount charged to their EBT card account. For example, if an EBT card customer wanted $50 in cash, Mounajed or the clerks would provide the customer with $50 cash and fraudulently enter a $100 grocery sale. The store account would subsequently be credited with $100 from the customer’s EBT SNAP account, providing the store with a $50 profit on the transaction.

The SNAP program does not allow cash to be exchanged in lieu of benefits.

Mounajed was indicted on October 11, 2012 by a Statewide Grand Jury. He was arraigned on October 26, 2012 in Middlesex Superior Court. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced today.

In September, Pat Lu, owner of Lotto Luck in Quincy, pleaded guilty to charges in a similar but separate scheme and was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in the House of Correction, with ten years of probation to serve upon completion of his sentence. He was also ordered to pay $285,000 in restitution.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Michael Pine of AG Coakley’s Public Integrity Division, with assistance from Victim Witness Advocates Shannon Legrice and Amber Foley. This case was investigated by Financial Investigator Brian Bukuras of the AG’s Financial Investigations Division and Massachusetts State Police assigned to the Attorney General’s Office. Investigators from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) and Food and Nutrition Service – Retailer Investigations Bureau (FNS-RIB) also assisted in the investigation.

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