U.S. District Judge Avern Cohn ordered four Bangladeshi brothers convicted of scamming Michigan and American taxpayers out of millions of dollars in food-stamp benefits to write about it in a local newspaper.
Cohn ordered the men to run an ad admitting to their crimes, and pay for it themselves.
“To Readers, listen to us. If you cheat on food stamps you are committing a federal crime and will be punished for doing so,” the ad states. “We know: we have been punished for cheating on food stamps.”
The fraud was committed in Hamtramck, a city that adjoins Detroit and is heavily populated with immigrants from Bangladesh. It made the news in 2015 for becoming the first U.S. city with an entirely Muslim city council.
The four men, brothers Ali, Nazar, Mustak, and Mohammed Ahmed, were arrested by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2014 after an investigation revealed that six small grocery stores in Hamtramck were responsible for scamming the government out of $12.5 million between 2013 and 2014, using the practice of “trafficking” in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The practice of trafficking is a multi-million dollar scam widespread throughout the country, as the Government Accountability Institute (GA)I) recently found in its extensive report.
Customers who want cash, sometimes to purchase illegal drugs, sell their benefits to the store often at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar. In turn, the customer walks away with his 50 cents in cash and the merchant pockets the full dollar.
GAI’s report focused heavily on the practice of sending food-stamp dollars out of the country allegedly to fund terrorist activity, but there is no indication that this was happening in Hamtramck.
According to a press release from the DOJ at the time of the arrests, then U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade said that “taxpayers in Michigan fund food stamp programs to provide food for the needy, not to create a commodity to be traded for profit.”
“We hope today’s charges will deter other merchants to ensure that food assistance programs are not abused,” she continued.
According to the Detroit Free Press, one of the four, Ali Ahmed will spend nine months behind bars, and will be required to pay $724,436 in fines.
In addition to the advertisement, the brothers were ordered to repay the taxpayers for their theft, but there is no mention of deportation for those convicted. Mohammed Ahmed was admitted to the U.S. as a winner of the “Diversity Green Card Lottery,” and presumably then applied for his family members to join him. The U.S. Department of State now bars Bangladeshi nationals from admission to the program.
Hoping to protect the brothers from a harsher sentence, family and friends told the court that the men were “loving,” “kind” and “generous” members of the Hamtramck Bangladeshi community.
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Anna Marie Bolton is a reporter for The Ohio Star.