PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - The two brothers accused of running a welfare scam out of a Portland market made their first appearances in Portland's federal court today.
Ali Ratib Daham, 40, and Abdulkareem Daham, 21, both of Westbrook, were indicted on April 25 and charged with counts including conspiracy against the U.S., SNAP trafficking, wire fraud, money laundering, and more.
A 52-page affidavit describes how federal agencies - tipped off by Maine DHHS - used a customer, known as the "CW" (cooperating witness), to uncover the illegal practices at Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue in Portland.
The affidavit indicates the grocer allegedly charged large amounts onto customers' EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards, provided them a cash return, and kept a commission.
21-year-old Abdulkareem Daham was in court first - for both his initial appearance and arraignment.
Daham is a student at Southern Maine Community College.
Daham is being represented by court-appointed attorney Peter Rodway.
He was in court on a summons and was never arrested.
Daham, 21, is only charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
If convicted, he could face a possible penalty of up to five years in prison, and no more than a $250,000 fine.
Abdulkareem Daham is not a U.S. citizen, but is a permanent resident.
The government did not request that he be detained and he was released on the following bail conditions:
- $25,000 unsecured bond if he does not show up for any court appearances
- Can not leave the state of Maine without prior permission from supervisor at U.S. Probation Office
- He must either remain a student at SMCC, or aim to get employment
- He must surrender his expired Iraqi passport, which he says is missing - if he cannot find it, he must write a statement
- Must report all interactions with law enforcement to supervisor
- Must comply with all federal, state, and local laws regarding the possession or use of controlled substances
Daham currently holds a state of Maine medical marijuana card - but since possession and use of marijuana is still a federal crime, he is not permitted to possess or use it.
After his bail conditions were listed, Daham turned to his lawyer and said, "So I can't smoke marijuana?"
He pleaded not guilty to conspiracy.
Ali Ratib Daham
His older brother, 40-year-old Ali Ratib Daham, was up next before Judge John Rich.
Daham is currently the owner of the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue in Portland.
He is being represented by Attorney Walter McKee of Augusta.
Daham is charged with several different crimes, including:
- One count of conspiracy against the U.S.
- One count of SNAP trafficking
- One count of WIC trafficking
- Five counts of wire fraud
- Fifteen counts of money laundering
- Two counts of theft of government funds
Ali Ratib Daham is a U.S. citizen.
He pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Daham, like his brother, was released on bail. He must surrender his U.S, passport & expired Iraqi passport, and faces a variety of other bail conditions.
His lawyer, Walter McKee, told NEWS CENTER that he agreed to represent McKee months ago, before he was even charged. When asked what's next, he said, "There are probably 100,000 documents, so it's going to take me a long time to go through those in the first place...it's going to take some time."
Both brothers were scheduled to begin trial in June, but both the judge and defense say it is likely that date will be pushed to give them more time to prepare.
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