Prosecutors: 'Brazen' Welfare Fraud Cost Taxpayers More than $3 Million
Prosecutors are asking a federal judge to sentence a former grocery store owner profiled in the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS Welfare Waste investigation to four years in prison for running a "brazen" scheme to defraud taxpayers of more than $3 million in welfare benefits.
Khaffak Ansari pleaded guilty in September to allowing food stamp benefits to be exchanged for cash, in violation of federal law, at his Stryker Avenue Food Market in St. Paul.
Prosecutors estimate that Ansari scammed taxpayers of a total of $3,037,651 during a period of nearly four years, beginning in 2006. Ansari disputes the total amount lost.
In a sentencing recommendation filed in court on Thursday, the government asked for a 48-month prison sentence, plus three years supervised release.
"This was a serious crime and the defendant's actions in perpetrating the fraud were brazen," prosecutors wrote.
"According to complaints from the community, it became so well known that the defendant was willing to trade SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits for cash that every month when benefit amounts were dispersed to SNAP benefit holders' cards, there would be a line around the block at the Stryker Avenue Market."
"Over a four year period the defendant stole more than $3,000,000 from a government program designed to aid people in need, enriching himself in the process."
Ansari told a probation officer that he took part in the fraud "because he was facing financial difficulties," according to court documents. But prosecutors say financial statements showed Ansari spent tens of thousands of dollars at high-end retailers such as Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton, and purchased a BMW vehicle.
Ansari was the subject of one of the stories in the ongoing 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigation Welfare Waste. In November 2010, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS confronted Ansari on-camera with the allegations. At the time, he refused to comment.
Ansari's sentencing date has not yet been set.