Mastic, NY - July 29, 2014 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General, today announced a 25-count indictment against two Suffolk County convenience store owners/operators and one store employee, along with seven Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) recipients for illegally trading cash for hundreds of thousands of dollars in SNAP benefits.
“It’s unconscionable that anyone would steal from a program designed to provide nutritional assistance to New Yorkers in need, especially those harmed by Hurricane Sandy,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “There has to be one set of rules for everyone, and that is why my office will hold these individuals accountable and attempt to recover the nearly $1 million stolen from this crucial program.”
Manjeet Chadha, 48, of North Bellmore and Sajjad Rashid, 43, of Rocky Point, co-owners and operators of Mastic Supermarket Corp. in Mastic, and Haricharan Malhotra, 41, of Mastic, an employee of the store, are charged with felony Grand Larceny, Misuse of Food Stamps, and Falsifying Business Records for orchestrating a scheme to steal nearly $1 million from the government program. The seven SNAP recipients also face significant Grand Larceny and Misuse charges.
If convicted, Rashid and Malhotra each face up to 15 years in prison. Chadha faces up to 7 years behind bars. Three of the seven recipients also face up to 7 years in prison, while the remaining four recipients, charged with lesser counts of felony Grand Larceny and Misuse, each face up to 4 years behind bars.
“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was created to provide food and nutrition to those who truly need this assistance,” said USDA OIG Special Agent-in-Charge William G. Squires, Jr. “Those who are involved in fraud and abuse of SNAP and other USDA programs will be aggressively pursued by our office. Our joint investigation with the Attorney General’s Office and New York law enforcement partners has brought to justice several individuals who obtained approximately $1 million from the SNAP program through illegal schemes. 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 type of crime is particularly egregious because it takes advantage of a government program aimed at providing nutrition for our most needy recipients,” said Suffolk County Police Commissioner Edward Webber. “We will continue to work in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that those who are fraudulently using SNAP will be brought to justice.”
Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone said, “SNAP is a vital social program for the most vulnerable families, children and the elderly, in Suffolk County who are at risk of going hungry, and it must be protected from waste, fraud and abuse. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for shutting down a scheme that drained resources from New Yorkers who truly need them.”
In addition to the criminal charges, Attorney General Schneiderman filed a civil suit Monday seeking restitution in an amount of $973,000 against Sajjad Rashid, Manjeet Chadha, Haricharan Malhotra and the corporation, Mastic Supermarket Corp., which was also criminally charged.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the USDA allocated an additional 50% in benefits to all SNAP recipients in affected areas, without regard to need. The seven recipients charged in the indictment received this Sandy benefit and illegally exchanged their SNAP benefits for cash at Mastic Supermarket Corp. shortly after the storm.
SNAP recipients are issued a benefit card for purchasing specified food items. But, according to the indictment unsealed today, Rashid, Chadha and Malhotra processed phantom SNAP transactions in cooperation with the seven SNAP cardholders. Instead of using their SNAP benefits for food, the cardholders received cash equaling half of the amount of these fake purchases, and Rashid, Chadha and Malhotra kept the remainder of the money for themselves.
The investigation revealed that in just the 10 months from March to December 2012, Mastic Supermarket Corp., rang up over $564,000 in SNAP benefits. That is significantly higher than redemptions in comparable stores located nearby, where the totals ranged from $14,000 to $24,000. In fact, in November 2012, after all SNAP cardholders in Suffolk County received the emergency Hurricane Sandy SNAP award equal to 50% of their monthly benefit, SNAP redemptions at Mastic Supermarket Corp. exceeded $75,000.
The individuals indicted today are:
Sajjad Rashid, 43, Secretary Treasurer and Manager of Mastic Supermarket Corp., 1088 Mastic Road, Mastic, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a "C" Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $50,000), a "C" Felony; and 2 counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an "E" Felony.
Haricharan Malhotra, 41, an employee of Mastic Supermarket Corp., 1088 Mastic Road, Mastic, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a "C" Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $50,000), a "C" Felony; and 2 counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an "E" Felony.
Manjeet Chadha, 48, Vice President of Mastic Supermarket Corp., 1088 Mastic Road, Mastic, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a "D" Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $3,000), a “D” Felony; and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an "E" Felony.
Mastic Supermarket Corp., the corporation located at 1088 Mastic Road, Mastic, is charged with 2 counts of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a "C" Felony; 2 counts of Misuse of Food Stamps (over $50,000), a “C” Felony; 4 counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a “D” Felony; 4 counts of Misuse of Food Stamps (over $3,000), a “D” Felony; 4 counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, an "E" Felony; 4 counts of Misuse of Food Stamps (over $1,000), an “E” Felony; and 5 counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an “E” Felony.
Three of the SNAP cardholders, Romie Harris, 45, of Mastic; Kristine Hensley Austin, 25, of Mastic Beach, and Dawn Murphy, 33, of Mastic Beach are each charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a "D" Felony, and Misuse of Food Stamps (over $3,000), a "D" Felony.
Four of the SNAP cardholders, Brittany Sardella, 26, of Hampton Bays; David Cantwell, 46, of Southhold; Carolyn Gray, 25, of Mastic, and Theresa Hubbard, 51, of Mastic Beach are each charged with Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, an "E" Felony, and Misuse of Food Stamps (over $1,000), an "E" Felony.
The charges are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
If see or know of waste, fraud or abuse in a social services program in New York State, please contact the Office of the Attorney General's helpline at (800) 771-7755.
Attorney General Schneiderman thanks the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service; the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office; the Suffolk County Department of Social Services; the Suffolk County Police Department, and the Nassau County Police Department for their assistance.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Tyler Reynolds and Rhonda Greenstein of the Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Gary T. Fishman. The Division of Criminal Justice is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General Kelly Donovan. The investigation was conducted by Legal Support Analyst Theo Davidson, Investigator Ryan Fannon, Supervising Investigator John Sullivan and Deputy Chief Investigator John McManus. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Dominick Zarrella.