BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. - Boynton Beach police shut down a convenience store and arrested the business and property owners Thursday in a crackdown on widespread food-stamp fraud.
Police officers served a search warrant around 10 a.m. at EZ Market at 1005 N. Seacrest Blvd.
Business owner Radi Gali, 63, and property owner Marwan Ghali, 34, face charges of public assistance fraud, racketeering, keeping a gambling house and moving unstamped cigarettes, according to Boynton Beach Police. Their state alcohol and tobacco license was suspended along with their county tax collector business receipt.
The two are accused of letting customers exchange their food stamp cards for cash by charging a fee. The benefit cards, issued to low-income families and disabled people, are only to be used for food.
The owners' arrests come nearly four months after police began investigating alleged public assistance fraud at several city convenience stores. Operation Meal Ticket led to the June 10 arrests of four owners and employees of four convenience stores, police said.
Those stores were Palm Food & Beverage on East Boynton Beach Boulevard, Kwik Stop on South Federal Highway, First Stop Foods on South Federal Highway and EZ Market.
During the investigation, undercover officers would walk into a store with a fictitious Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card and request cash in a certain dollar amount. The clerk would charge a fee for a matching amount. Police were able to conduct 68 fraudulent transactions worth $4,000 at the five convenience stores in five months, police said.
The fictitious EBT cards were provided by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which helped police with the five-month investigation. While some EBT cards do have cash benefits, none of these people were using cards that were eligible for it.
The investigation showed that store clerks were allowing customers to use the cards to buy beer, cigarettes and get cash, police said.
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