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Waukegan Grocery Owners Accused Of Scamming Food Stamp Program

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WAUKEGAN, Ill. (CBS) – The owners of a Waukegan grocery store have been slapped with federal criminal charges, for allegedly defrauding federal food stamp and nutrition programs out of more than $500,000.

The U.S. Attorney’s office announced Thursday that Khaled Saleh, 46, and Fatima Saleh, 35 — the owners of Sunset Foods in Waukegan — have been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud government programs, and one count of U.S. Agriculture Department program fraud.

The Salehs allegedly ran a scheme in which they would buy items such as baby formula off of customers who had purchased the items at other stores using government food stamps. They would pay the customers about half the cash value of the items in exchange.

After that, they would put the items on their own shelves and jack up the price, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors claim the Salehs also illegally sold food stamp benefits for cash.

A U.S. Agriculture Department agent conducted a sting against the Salehs, in which he bought food stamp benefits at Sunset, then used them to buy baby formula at another store. Then he sold the formula cans back to the Salehs for half the price several times, prosecutors said.

Agents came to Sunset with a federal search warrant on April 26. They also searched a suitcase belonging to Fatima Saleh, which contained more than $350,000 in cash and 800 coupon vouchers from the Women, Infants and Children Program, which provides vouchers to give infants, young children and postpartum women a nutritious diet. An additional $25,000 in cash was also found in the Salehs’ apartment, prosecutors said.

In addition to accepting WIC coupons, Sunset was also part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program, or the food stamp program, and customers at the store were authorized to use LINK cards at the store. The Salehs allegedly collected $1.175 million in LINK and WIC coupons, more than $500,000 of them fraudulently, prosecutors said.

Saleh also succeeded in getting on food stamps and the LINK program herself, prosecutors say. She took in as much as $952 a month in LINK card benefits, prosecutors allege.

Khaled and Fatima Saleh could each get a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.

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