The owners of a Somali market on the West Side were charged Friday in federal court in Columbus with defrauding food-assistance programs of more than $10 million over nine years.
Prosecutors say that Abdurahim Nuriso of the Southwest Side and his brother, Hassan Nuriso of Grove City, converted food stamps and other benefits into cash or accepted them for ineligible purchases at their Towfiq Market, 3655 Sullivant Ave.
According to a 19-page indictment, the Nurisos would buy customers’ benefit credits or sell ineligible items through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Federal law prohibits such transactions or the use of food stamp benefits for alcohol, tobacco products, cleaning products and some other items.
Court documents outline dozens of instances in which Abdurahim Nuriso is accused of accepting food stamp benefits in exchange for shampoo, calling cards, a dish scrubber, hookah pipes and other items not allowed under the programs or as payment of store credit, according to court documents.
Investigators also noted instances when Abdurahim Nuriso told customers that he could not complete transactions or pay for benefits because “he was being watched” and “the government was watching all Somalis,” according to documents.
One customer told investigators that others regularly sold “WIC and food stamp benefits for United States currency,” documents state.
The indictment accuses Hassan Nuriso of being present during at least one of the transactions.
Investigators said the activities took place from about October 2010 through April 2019 and involved more than $8 million in SNAP transactions and nearly $2.1 million in WIC benefits.
A federal grand jury charged each man with five felony counts, including conspiracy to defraud the United States, unlawful food stamp redemptions and theft of public funds. Each count carries a potential penalty of five years in prison.
Prosecutors also are seeking the forfeiture of more than $240,000 seized from the brothers, including cash found at their homes and their business and from bank accounts.