GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The owners of a Glendale market are accused of engaging in $2.3 million of food stamp fraud following an undercover investigation.
The Nicben African Caribbean Market Plus near Bethany Home Road and 43rd Avenue has been under investigation for about three years. A multiagency task force raided the small store and the owners' home on Wednesday.
Investigators allege that on multiple occasions the retailer provided cash to individuals in exchange for food stamp benefits in fraudulent transactions.
"For instance, if they would charge 30 cents on the dollar then they would provide, for a $100 transaction, they would provide $70 to the recipient and $30 for themselves and then charge 100 percent of that transaction to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the food stamp program," said Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) card recipients are permitted to use benefits only for eligible food items. SNAP benefits cannot be exchanged or redeemed for cash.
"This retailer has engaged in a number of fraudulent acts, violations of program rules and of federal regulations and that includes things such as using the EBT card to provide cash back to a client, accepting the EBT card and redeeming it for the purchase of jewelry, for the purchase of phone cards and other things that are ineligible under the program guidelines," said Marcus Hambrick, inspector general of the Arizona DES.
Carter said the store was doing "a ton more SNAP business than a retailer of this size and design could ever potentially do."
Carter said it was the largest SNAP fraud case in Arizona history.
"Every dollar of this benefit was intended to help people with a basic subsistence of food in their lives," Carter said. "In this instance, $2.3 million was taken away from that so it is important to stop this kind of trafficking."
Bernard Le-Uh and Monica Le-Uh could face charges including fraudulent schemes and artifices, unlawful use of food stamps, money laundering, computer tampering, illegally conducting an enterprise and related offenses stemming from the investigation targeting illegal activities associated with the program.
Bernard Le-Uh told 3TV reporter Kristine Harrington that he did nothing wrong. At this time he and his wife have not been arrested.
Carter said 33 people who currently receive benefits will be investigated for possible SNAP fraud, which may result in administrative sanctions and/or criminal prosecutions.
The investigation comes after months of a coordinated undercover operation led by Internal Affairs and Special Operations staff within the Arizona Department of Economic Security, in coordination with the United States Department of Agriculture - Office of the Inspector General (USDA OIG), Glendale Police Department, and the Arizona Attorney General's Office.