FBI investigates alleged massive Portland welfare fraud

Market investigated for welfare fraud

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Federal agents raided a Portland market earlier this year after being tipped off the owner was committing large-scale welfare fraud.

The affidavit that led to that raid at Ahram Market was recently unsealed. So far, it appears no charges have been filed.

The 52-page affidavit that NEWS CENTER was first made aware of Monday afternoon indicates that Ali Ratib Daham — the owner of the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue — is being investigated for massive fraud, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to the affidavit signed by FBI special agent Richard Pires, the feds were tipped off because the market had unusually high sales from SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps. Maine DHHS tells NEWS CENTER they gave the FBI the tip.

According to the FBI, a cooperating witness, referred to as a "CW" in the affidavit, told Daham that he was new to town, and at that point, Daham told him how to get more benefits by pretending not to know English and telling the government that he wanted to go to school. That way, he could get benefits without working.

The document went on to say:

"It is at this initial meeting that Ali also instructed the CW how they could file false tax returns despite the CW telling Ali that the CW does not work."

The document goes says that this CW would come in and buy a small amount of groceries, $20 or $30 worth. The market would give him $200 back in cash, in exchange for taking $200 more off his benefit card.

The affidavit said from July 2011 to December 2015, the Ahram market had an average SNAP transaction amount of $82 and 22 cents.

The state average for medium retailers in Maine was $29 and 33 cents.

It also claims the market had a WIC voucher redemption rate that was higher than four out of the five largest supermarkets in Portland, despite the fact that it was a small grocery store and those other markets have larger inventories of WIC approved items.

Finally, the affidavit states that another person, Ashraf Eldeknawey, worked out of the market, filing false tax returns for a number of people — nearly all claiming tax refunds.

This affidavit was filed in April. It was only recently unsealed, and NEWS CENTER found out about it Monday. NEWS CENTER went to the market and was told that Daham was not available, but would be back Tuesday.

The FBI refused to comment, as did the Justice Department, citing a pending investigation.

No one has been charged in this case.

Media partners at the Portland Press Herald interviewed Daham at the market Monday. He told them he was aware of the investigation and referred all questions to his attorney, Walter McKee of Augusta.

Here's the statement McKee gave to the Press Herald:

“We have been aware of this investigation and Ali has been adamant that he has done nothing wrong. He looks forward to a full airing of what did — and most importantly did not — happen. Until then he is going [to] have the benefit of the time honored American tradition of the presumption of innocence.”

Copyright 2016 WCSH


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