This may be the best food stamp fraud story we’ve posted all year!
No Mohammads in this one however!
Note to new readers: following immigrant-run convenience store fraud is a hobby here at RRW, and one that has recently yielded lots of juicy stories. Click here for our entire archive.
This one is from Salem, Massachusetts where Haitian immigrant, Peter Jhonny Limat, has been found guilty of ripping off the Department of Agriculture (you the taxpayers) to the tune of an estimated half a million dollars at two convenience stores he owns.
But, what is so interesting is that his defense in court was that the customers made him do it—they were to blame for his stealing from the SNAP program. In fact, the customers are also breaking the law as we saw in the story from Florida earlier this month (Operation Money Tree!), but the judge wasn’t buying that Limat wasn’t at fault.
This is the first story I saw at The Salem News published on December 24th. Below you will get a chuckle out of story number two, published on December 28th (I was looking, unsuccessfully, for a photo of Limat when I found the update). Emphasis below is mine:
SALEM — The owner of two small convenience stores in Salem and Lynn will be sentenced next month to two years in jail by a judge who said yesterday that Peter Jhonny Limat’s breach of the public trust warrants time behind bars.
“The money that pays for food stamps doesn’t come out of thin air,” said Salem Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead. “It comes out of the pockets of working people, and it goes to people who supposedly cannot afford the necessities of life.”
But many of the customers at Limat’s two stores — Boston Street Market in Salem and J&M Mini Mart in Lynn — weren’t using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or “SNAP,” cards to buy food, Limat admitted earlier this month.
This is a really simple explanation for readers on how the scam is done:
Instead, prosecutors said, Limat, 38, of Lynn, would let people use the cards like they were using an ATM and then take half the money for himself. A customer who wanted $50, for example, would let Limat charge $100 to the card, which he would report as food sales. Each of them would get $50 in cash. The Department of Agriculture would then reimburse Limat for the full amount, sending the money directly to his bank account.
Over the course of a year, Limat conducted some $800,000 in food stamp transactions, prosecutor Phil Mallard told the judge earlier this month. More than half those transactions — a half-million dollars worth — were for purported food sales of more than $100, something Mallard argued was practically impossible given the limited inventory of both stores. [Readers, just a reminder that the other day I mentioned that store inventory is a tip-off to investigators.—ed]
Limat’s tax return indicated he was raking in the dough in previous years.
But Nathan, a privately hired Boston defense attorney, argued that his client and his family are now struggling to get by.
The 2005 BMW that Limat bought needed a new transmission, and every cent Limat earns as a Haitian interpreter now goes to the state Department of Revenue to satisfy a state cigarette tax arrears, Nathan said. [Sounds like he has more problems on top of food stamp fraud—ed]
Blame the customer! His attorney cited the New York Times!
Both Nathan and Limat yesterday placed the blame on customers looking for cash.
“This ‘scam,’ according to a New York Times article, is a fraud committed by the person walking into the store,” Nathan said.
So the judge didn’t buy it and gave Limat a couple of weeks to get his affairs in order before he reports to jail, however, clearly fearing Limat would split the country the judge ordered Limat fitted with a GPS bracelet.
Here is what happened next according to the update from The Salem News:
SALEM — On Monday, a judge gave Peter Jhonny Limat a chance to get his affairs in order before being sentenced in a food stamp fraud scheme.
There was one condition: He had to agree to return to court the next day to be fitted with a GPS bracelet to monitor his whereabouts until sentencing on Jan. 13, when he was scheduled to receive a two-year jail term.
He stood the judge up on Christmas eve!
When Limat, 38, of Lynn, failed to show up at the courthouse Tuesday for his bracelet, Judge Howard Whitehead waited for him all morning, then issued a warrant.
Still, the judge, known for his patience, wanted to give Limat the benefit of the doubt. Even though it was Christmas Eve, the judge remained at the courthouse until it closed at 4:30 p.m., on the chance Limat would show up.
A probation officer who had the day off even went by Limat’s home, where his wife said she hadn’t seen him since the day before.
When Limat finally turned up on Thursday with a list of excuses, the judge ran out of patience and put him in custody.
And yesterday, the judge decided to impose the two-year jail term immediately — even as Limat’s new attorney, Jean-Fresnel Josaphat, offered more excuses for Limat’s failure to show up.
No more excuses, as clearly the judge fears he might make a run for Haiti!
Josaphat pleaded with the judge to let Limat out of jail, saying his family has planned a birthday party for him on Dec. 29, and offering to surrender any documents he might need to leave the country and return to his native Haiti.
Previously, Limat had told the judge he’d lost his passport — an assertion Whitehead also cast doubt on yesterday.
Do you find it as fascinating as I do that crooks and liars, like this guy, are actually able to buy a couple of convenience stores, get permission from the Department of Agriculture to run the SNAP program in them, and go on for years before being caught?
If you suspect food stamp fraud in your neighborhood, click here for how to report it.
Endnote: Limat’s story probably tops 2013, but this 2011 food stamp fraud story where Fatima tried to run out the back door with a suitcase full of money (and mom in tow), may be my all-time favorite. Although a close second is this story from 2008 where the Arab American News noted that there were an awful lot of Arab names in these food stamp fraud cases! Nah! said a US attorney, just a coincidence!