HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — An employee at a store in Waterbury has pled guilty to charges of food stamp fraud for allowing customers to redeem their benefits for cash and items such as bongs and hookahs.
Deirdre M. Daly, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that Tahir Shahzad of Harrison, New York, waived his right to be indicted and pled guilty in Hartford to one count of unlawful use of food stamp benefits and one count of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud.
The 33-year-old, Shahzad, worked at WB Trade Fair Grocery on 43 Willow Street. It was there, according to court documents and statements made in court, that Shahzad acted as the store manager at times supervising at least four other individuals who worked at the store.
From November 2014 until June 2016, Shahzad and others illegally allowed customers to redeem their food stamp benefits for cash and other ineligible items, including cigarettes, glass pipes, bongs, and hookahs.
Shahzad charged the customers’ food stamp cards approximately double the value for these illegal transactions.
Given the stock of eligible food items at the store, the number of registers and the customer amenities, it is estimated that WB Trade Fair Grocery could lawfully redeem at most between $120,000 to $240,000 per year in food stamp benefits. However, during this approximately 18-month period, food stamp redemptions at the store totaled approximately $3.2 million.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (“SNAP”) is administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and utilizes federal tax dollars to subsidize low-income households to provide them with the opportunity to achieve a more nutritious diet by increasing their food-purchasing power. SNAP recipients purchase eligible food items at retail food stores through the use of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, and SNAP benefits may be accepted by authorized retailers only in exchange for eligible items.
Items such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, paper goods and soaps are not eligible for purchase with Food Stamp benefits, and it is a violation of the rules and regulations governing the food stamp program to allow benefits to be used to purchase ineligible items. SNAP benefits may not lawfully be exchanged for cash under any circumstances. The program is designed so that the total amount of each purchase is electronically transferred to the retailer’s designated bank account.
Shahzad is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on July 13, 2017. He is released on a $50,000 bond.
Two men who worked at WB Trade Fair Grocery previously pled guilty to the same charges.
Raul Carlos Monarca-Gonzalez pled guilty on November 28, 2016.
On April 7, 2017, he was sentenced to 30 months of prison. Tallat Mahmood pleaded guilty on March 30, 2017, and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 12, 2017.