A Wayne couple was sentenced to federal prison Tuesday for buying $4.5 million worth of food stamps from customers at a grocery store they managed in Paterson.
Ibrahim Zughbi, 67, got 3½ years in a federal penitentiary while his wife, Miriam Zughbi, 63, also of Wayne, was sentenced to two years, Acting U.S. Attorney Rachael A. Honig said.
Ibrahim Zughbi previously participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when he was the owner of Neighborhood Supermarket, a medium-sized grocery store, Honig said.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP benefits – formerly known as food stamps – cannot be sold under federal law, she said.
The USDA permanently disqualified Ibrahim Zughbi in March 2011 after the market was accused of several SNAP violations, the U.S. attorney said.
At that point, another person took over the business, changed its name to Jamaica Meat Market and “certified in writing to the USDA that Ibrahim Zughbi would have nothing to do with the business or its participation in the program," Honig said.
Zughbi and his wife continued to run the market, beginning in 2014, while paying cash for SNAP benefits, she said.
Noticing a high volume deducted electronically through SNAP debit cards, federal authorities sent in a customer who made 16 "purchases" at Jamaica Meat Market, obtaining cash from either or both Zughbi, Honig said.
Ibrahim Zughbi admitted in federal court in 2019 that he wrote inflated checks from the store account containing the SNAP fraud proceeds to a supplier. He said he then received funds back in cash from the supplier.
Zughbi also issued checks to family members with no apparent connection to Jamaica Meat Market, Honig noted.
In exchange for leniency at sentencing, Zughbi pleaded guilty in April 2019 to benefit fraud and money laundering and his wife pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States.
Honig credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with the investigation leading to pleas and sentences, secured by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean M. Sherman.
She also thanked the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Wayne Township Police Department and the Paterson Police Department for their roles in the investigation.
The Zughbis must serve just about all of their sentences because there’s no parole in the federal prison system.
U.S. District Judge Anne E. Thompson also sentenced both to three years of supervised release and ordered them to pay restitution of $4.66 million.
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