A New Jersey couple admitted to a scheme in which their grocery store fraudulently exchanged food stamps for cash — totaling more than $4.5 million over four years — while they kept some of the money for themselves.
The couple, Ibrahim Zughbi, 65, and his wife, Miriam Zughbi, 61, of Wayne, N.J., owned and worked at Jamaica Meat Market in Paterson from 2014 to 2018, according to a statement from the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Ibrahim Zughbi was previously barred from the federal food benefits program for allowing cash exchanges at a different store he owned. He listed someone else as the store’s owner so the store could participate in the program.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, once known as the Food Stamp Program, provides people with an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, similar to a debit card.
A court document outlined one example of how the scheme ran: a Jamaica Meat Market would buy $5 worth of food, but Ibrahim Zughbi charged the customer’s EBT card $75, handing the customer some of the extra cash and keeping the rest.
Ibrahim Zughbi pleaded guilty to a fraud charge related to SNAP and money laundering, according to the statement. Miriam Zughbi pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States through SNAP benefit fraud.
“They’re good people,” said Alan Zegas, attorney for Ibrahim Zughbi. “They made a mistake and they admitted to it.”
Zegas noted that the $4.5 million figure reflected the total sale price, not the sum the Zughbis took home. He said he didn’t know how much they kept, but it was “not close” to $4.5 million.
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