BALTIMORE (WJZ) — More than a dozen retail store operators in and around Baltimore have been charged in connection to a huge food stamp and wire fraud scheme.

The indictments allege the retailers received more than $16 million in federal payments for transactions in which they did not provide any food, a fraud scheme commonly known as “food stamp trafficking.”

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Retailers must apply to and be approved by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to participate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, which helps low income families afford nutritious foods.

In Maryland, the program provides eligible individuals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, which operates like a debit card. Authorized retailers use a terminal that checks the card information and deducts the cash value of the purchase from the SNAP balance.

SNAP reimbursements are paid to retailers through electronic funds transfers. Retailers bill the government in return for providing approved food items to customers.

The indictments allege that the defendants illegally exchanged EBT benefits for cash, instead. To avoid detection, they debited the funds from the card in multiple transactions over a period of hours or days, or called a different store where the transaction was processed manually, the Department of Justice says.

As a result these transactions, they allegedly obtained more than $16,482,270 in EBT deposits for transactions in which food sales never occurred or were substantially inflated and split the proceeds with food stamp recipients.

“The food stamp program is intended to put food on the tables of needy recipients, not to put money in the pockets of greedy criminals,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Honest storeowners work hard to earn a profit by actually selling food, and food producers and distributors also benefit. People who play by the rules deserve to know that criminals who defraud them will be held accountable.”

The defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud; a maximum of five years in prison for conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and wire fraud; and a maximum of five years in prison for food stamp fraud.

The defendants and their stores are:

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  • Walayat Khan, 36, of Reisterstown
  • Barbara Ann Duke, 50, of Owings Mills

Maria’s Market Place, 307 S. Broadway in Baltimore and Royals Food Market, 921 E. Patapsco Avenue in Brooklyn. From October 2013 to June 2016, Khan and Duke allegedly obtained more than $1,486,118 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Shaheen Tasewar Hussain, 60, of Ellicott City

Shop & Save, 301 Crain Highway South, Suite D, Glen Burnie. From July 2014 through October 2015, Hussain allegedly obtained more than $778,183 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Kelym Novas Perez, 34, of Baltimore
  • Jose Remedio Gonzalez Reyes, 50, of Baltimore

Kelym Grocery, 2734 Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. From August 2013 through March 2016, Perez and her husband, Gonzalez Reyes, allegedly obtained more than $879,500 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Mulazam Hussain, 54, of Windsor Mill

Monroe Food Mart and Y&J Grocery in Baltimore. From March 2013 through July 2016 Hussain allegedly obtained more than $1,242,745 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Mahmood Hussain Shah, 57, of Catonsville
  • Muhammad Rafiq, 58, of Reisterstown

Corner Groceries, 1242 Darley Avenue in Baltimore. From October 2010 through August 2016, Shah and Rafiq allegedly obtained more than $1,610,556 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Mohammad Shafiq, 50, of Gwynn Oak, Maryland; and his daughter,
  • Alia Shaheen, 24, of Baltimore

Quick Stop Convenience Store, 237 N. Patterson Park Avenue; New York Food Mart, 1201 N. Patterson Park Avenue; and Barclay Food Mart, 2454 Barclay Street, all in Baltimore; and Shafiq Corporation, 6929 Holabird Avenue, in Dundalk, Maryland. From about October 2010 through July 2016, Mohammad Shafiq and his daughter, Alia Shaheen, allegedly obtained more than $3,712,353 in payments for food sales that never occurred or were substantially inflated.

  • Mohammad Irfan, 59, of Nottingham
  • Muhammad Sarmad, 40, of Nottingham

New Sherwood Market, 6324 Sherwood Road in Northwood, Maryland; Martin Mart, 1504 Martin Boulevard in Middle River, Maryland; Rosedale Mart, 6326 Kenwood Avenue in Rosedale, Maryland; and M&A Mart 7400-A Belair Road in Baltimore. From October 2010 through August 2016, Irfan and Sarmad allegedly obtained more than $3,550,662 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Rizwan Pervez, 38, of Essex

M&N Mini Mart, 1846 W. North Avenue; and Mega Mart1, 1522 Ellamont Street, both in Baltimore. From April 2014 through July 2016, Pervez, allegedly obtained more than $1,689,511 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

  • Kassem Mohammad Hafeed, a/k/a Kassam Mohammad Hafeed, 51, of Baltimore

C&C Market, 4752 Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore. From November 2010 through April 2013, Hafeed allegedly obtained more than $1,532,642 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

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