FLINT (WWJ/AP) - A federal judge has sentenced a Flint store owner to four years, three months in prison for participating in a $612,000 food stamp fraud scheme.
U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade says 55-year-old Noha Fofana was sentenced earlier this week for conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud. A jury convicted him in August.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith also ordered Fofana to pay $612,980.96 in restitution to the USDA-Food and Nutrition Service. This amount is to be paid jointly and severally with Fofana’s co-defendant, Akhir K. McFarland, who was sentenced on Dec. 18, 2012, to 16 months in federal prison for his participation in the conspiracy.
McQuade says Fofana, the owner of Mandingo African Market, redeemed more than $750,000 in food stamp benefits from February 2009 to July 2011, approximately $612,000 of which was obtained utilizing fraudulent “food stamps-for-cash” exchanges.
State officials calculated that during that same time period, Mandingo’s average food stamp redemption amount was $26,798 per month — compared to an average of $5,479 monthly redemption for other convenience stores in the area.
Witnesses testified during the trial that Fofana and others conspired to fraudulently submit Michigan Bridge Card numbers for cash benefits. The Bridge Card is a debit card-like device that electronically tracks food stamp benefits.
Fofana and others would allegedly obtain the card numbers from benefit recipients and call the numbers into the store. An employee back at the Mandingo African Market would then manually enter the Bridge Card numbers in order to transfer the benefits to the market’s bank account. McQuade said members of the conspiracy agreed to pay customers, including undercover law enforcement agents, roughly 50 cents for each $1 charged against their cards.
“Taxpayers fund food stamps to provide food for the needy, not to create a revenue stream for store owners,” McQuade said in a statement. “We hope that other merchants will become aware of prosecutions like this one and be deterred from engaging in similar fraud schemes.”