Man Gets Prison Time In $15 Million Food-Stamp Swindle

CLEVELAND (AP) - A city grocer will serve three years and five months in prison for bilking the federal food-stamp program for $15 million and laundering the money through banks in Ohio and the Middle East.

Abdellatif Abuzahrieh, 46, spent years running the scheme through his stores in Cleveland's poorest neighborhoods, federal authorities said.

His wife, Shahrazan, 46, was sentenced Tuesday to probation for three years for a misdemeanor charge of food-stamp fraud.

Federal authorities seized $2.5 million in cars, homes and cash. About $400,000 of that money came from the Abuzahriehs' business partner, Ali Jaber Faiz, who stashed the cash in the attic of his Westlake home.

Faiz also is expected to get 41 months in prison when he is sentenced next week.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Blake said the scam by the Abuzahriehs and Faiz stole food from the mouths of the poor and children. Blake said it is impossible to determine what the laundered money was used for because banks in the Middle East have refused to cooperate.

Abuzahrieh and Faiz pleaded guilty in March in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to commit money laundering. Their pleas came in the second week of their trial on money laundering and food-stamp fraud before Judge John M. Manos.

Authorities said their five stores bought food stamps from welfare recipients at a discount and redeemed them with the government for their full value from 1994 to 2001.

Because food stamps are limited to buying nutritional food items, they sometimes are illegally sold for less than face value for cash that can be used for anything.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)