A massive food stamp fraud investigation culminated this week with the arrest of about 30 people from 22 stores in the Oklahoma City metro area.
Law enforcement investigators and officers swept through the metro area Wednesday and Thursday making the arrests, said Sheree Powell, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.
Details of the investigation remain sketchy, but the names of two of the individuals charged were made public Thursday after the unsealing of multiple-count indictments in Oklahoma City federal court.
Store owners Muluneh Zeleke and Muhammad Zahid are accused of defrauding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program out of more than $1.8 million.
The program is commonly referred to by its former food stamp program name.
Zeleke, the 54-year-old owner of Z&Z Convenience Store at 2445 N Martin Luther King Ave. in Oklahoma City, is accused of conspiring with clerks and food stamp recipients to defraud the federal food stamp program out of more than $1.2 million.
The money allegedly was taken from October 2007 through February 2010.
Food stamp recipients are given electronic benefit cards similar to debit cards.
Clients are supposed to use the cards to purchase food, and merchants are prohibited from redeeming money credited to the cards for cash.
Zeleke is accused of allowing customers to swipe their cards for cash, with the customers getting about 50 percent of the money generated by the transactions and Zeleke keeping the rest.
Zeleke, who was born in Ethiopia, was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and four counts of aiding and abetting food stamp violations.
He faces a maximum of five years in prison, three years' probation and a $250,000 fine on each of the five counts.
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