PORTLAND, Maine — Brothers who owned and worked at a Portland grocery have been charged with running a welfare fraud out of the store that may have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
Following an investigation by the FBI and other federal and state agencies, Ali Ratib Daham, 40, and Abdulkareem Daham, 21, were charged with conspiring to defraud the United States through their operation of Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue. The older brother, who was the owner of the store, also was charged with trafficking in welfare vouchers, wire fraud, money laundering and theft of government funds.
From June 2011 until about April 2016, the two Westbrook brothers allegedly allowed welfare recipients to exchange their aid vouchers for cash and pocketed some of the proceeds. They are also accused of allowing people to purchase ineligible goods and letting people use welfare vouchers to pay down credit accounts at the grocery store.
During that period the small grocery processed millions of dollars in food stamps and other benefits, and the average welfare transaction amount was higher than that at the nearby Hannaford, according to court documents.
While operating the alleged scam, the indictment states Ali Daham transferred more than $4 million in various welfare funds into his business checking accounts, mixing legitimate and fraudulent transactions.
Walter McKee, an Augusta lawyer who is representing Ali Daham, said he is reviewing the indictment and anticipates his client will plead not guilty. A lawyer for Abdulkareem Daham could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Ahram Halal Market was vandalized weeks after it was reported the FBI was looking into potential fraud there. The Portland Police said a man smashed the store’s large plate glass windows with a bat on Christmas Eve, but no suspect was ever arrested.
Shortly after the fraud investigation was first reported and before the vandalism, the city received an application to change the store name and owner on the grocery’s business license. The application that is still pending before the city.
The fraud investigation was first reported in October 2016 by conservative news site LifeZette.com and was swiftly seized upon by Gov. Paul LePage as evidence of his long held position that Maine needs to crack down on welfare fraud.
In a statement included in the press release from the U.S. Attorney for Maine, Department Health and Human Resources Commissioner Mary Mayhew thanked state and federal investigators for their work in the case, which allegedly involved Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits.
“I am committed to maintaining this focus to ensure our limited taxpayer dollars are going toward those who truly need them,” Mayhew said.
If convicted, both men face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy charge. Ali Daham could face another $250,000 fine and several more decades of prison time on the other charges.