Supermarket Owner Imprisoned for Multimillion Dollar Food Stamp Fraud

A Decatur, Georgia supermarket owner has been imprisoned for a multi-million dollar food stamp fraud case, according to a release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Tessema Lulseged owned a supermarket in Decatur, Georgia, but he was selling much more than groceries. He was trafficking in food stamps, and, for a time, it made him a wealthy man.

Lulseged owned the Big T Supermarket, a convenience store just outside Atlanta.

 He routinely and illegally allowed his customers to exchange food stamp benefits for cash taking a substantial cut for himself.

2009 until 2014, Lulseged’s crimes netted him approximately $6.5 million.

“He didn’t even have to know you to trade food stamps for cash,” said Special Agent Will Filson, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Division along with agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General.

The federal food stamp program, administered by the Department of Agriculture and supported by taxpayer dollars, is intended to offer low-income citizens nutritional assistance

Lulseged allowed customers to exchange benefits for cash if they purchased groceries valued at 10 percent of the amount of cash they wanted. For example, if a customer wanted $200 in cash, he or she was required to buy $20 worth of groceries. The person would then get their money, and Lulseged would pocket $150 for himself. A total of $350 would be deducted from the food stamp debit card.

The investigation began in 2013. Sources and undercover operatives were used to make controlled exchanges, and investigators also compared the amounts of products Lulseged bought from vendors with the amounts redeemed using food stamp benefits.

“When we compared actual vendor purchases against submitted food stamp redemption amounts, it was outrageous,” Filson said. “It was something like $500,000 worth of products purchased and $8 million reported in food stamp redemptions. The figures were completely skewed.”

Search and seizure warrants were executed against Lulseged in 2014, and more than $700,000 was recovered from his various bank accounts. The government also seized Lulseged’s supermarket building and his personal residence. In 2015, Lulseged pled guilty to trafficking in food stamps. Last month, a federal judge sentenced the 49-year-old to four years and three months in prison.

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