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Machigan:Grand Rapids man originally from Somalia busted in $400,000 food-stamp fraud sent to prison

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Laaska News Feberuary 15,2011

Machigan:Grand Rapids man busted in $400,000 food-stamp fraud sent to prison

 By John Agar | The Grand Rapids Press( Feb. 08)

GRAND RAPIDS,MACHIGAN – One of two brothers accused in a $400,000 food-stamp fraud was sentenced today to five years in prison.

Omar Sufi was also ordered to pay $401,670 in restitution.

His brother, Mohamed Sufi, awaits sentencing.

The brothers, originally from Somalia, are also accused of wiring thousands of dollars to hot spots in the Middle East and Africa.

The government said the Sufis, who owned Halal Depot at 650 28th St. SW, accepted electronic food stamps for cash and items not covered under the government program that is designed to help feed the needy, including mothers and children.

“Despite benefiting personally from the generous spirit of the United States’ social welfare programs … the defendants brazenly defrauded them for their own personal gain,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nils Kessler wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

“In the short run, the defendants have diverted large sums of money intended to feed the poor,” he said.

“In the long run, they have jeopardized food assistance itself by contributing to a perception of the program as a mire of fraud, waste and abuse. And not least, the defendants have deliberately circumvented banking laws to send public assistance funds and other money to questionable recipients in foreign countries.”

A government witness said the store’s shelves had little food, much of it beyond the expiration date, when investigators used a search warrant last summer.

About 50 people showed up to support the brothers as U.S District Judge Janet Neff handed down the sentence.

Kenneth Tableman, attorney for Omar Sufi, 29, said the government vastly overstated the losses.

He said his client, a Mogadishu refugee, has had a difficult life. He and his mother and siblings fled civil war in 1992 after his 8-year-old brother, struck by a grenade, died in his arms. The family went to Ethiopia and then Kenya. The lived four years in a United Nations refugee camp before they came to the U.S. with the assistance of an Ada Township church.

Sufi did well in school, became a U.S. citizen, and held good jobs.

Many people wrote to the judge on behalf of the brothers. They have rejected any notion of terrorism links.

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