Store Allegedly Let Food Stamps Users Buy MILLIONS In Bongs, Pipes

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Authorities have charged three employees for accepting food stamps for tobacco, hookahs and drug paraphernalia, according to federal attorneys.

The three employees “illegally allowed customers to redeem their food stamp benefits for cash and other ineligible items, including cigarettes, glass pipes, bongs and hookahs,” the Connecticut attorneys allege in their statement.

Employees at WB Trade Fair Grocery in Woodbury, Conn., allegedly would ring up fake charges on a customer’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card to cover the sale of ineligible items. EBT cards work like a debit card account, which the federal government loads with taxpayer money every couple weeks.

Tallat Mahmood, 63, Raul Carlos Monarca, 40, and Tahir Shahzad, 32, are charged with food stamp fraud and illegally trafficking in food stamps.

Investigators discovered the fraud by looking at how much the store was getting paid in food stamps benefits. The agents said “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.”

Investigators saw that the store brought in $3.2 million in food stamp revenue during the 18 month period when the fraud was committed. The U.S. attorney’s office did not say how much of that revenue came from the illegal purchases. (RELATED: Report: USDA STILL Can’t Prevent Food Stamp Fraud)

The owner of the WB Trade Fair Grocery was not included in the charges, a store representative told Waterbury, Ct., newspaper the Republican-American.

Food stamps, also called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, can only be used for certain food items under federal law. Purchasing of tobacco, alcohol and any other controlled substance with food stamps is obviously prohibited. Selling ineligible items, or misusing of food stamps that amounts to over $100, is a felony.

A representative with the Connecticut U.S. attorney’s office told The Daily Caller News Foundation that the investigation is still ongoing. If convicted, the three defendants each face 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or full repayment of the funds, whichever amount is greater.

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