SALT LAKE CITY — Twelve people and two Ogden markets are named in a federal indictment alleging they fraudulently obtained cash from a government assistance program designed to provide food for needy people.

Multiple times between April 2010 and October 2012, a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefit card was presented to an employee of Westside Valley Market or 9th Street Corner Market along with a request to redeem the value on the card for cash, the indictment alleges.

The two stores redeemed more than $8.6 million in SNAP benefits combined over that 18-month period, according to the indictment.

SNAP cards, which work like debit cards, generally allow only the purchase of non-prepared food items. Stores are prohibited from accepting SNAP cards for such things as alcohol, tobacco, prepared hot foods, pet food, cellphone minutes/ring tones or household goods. Benefits cannot be redeemed for cash.

According to the indictment, clerks at the two markets required the customer to purchase a nominal amount of food or non-food items, such as cigarettes, and in one or more transactions processed the sale and an additional amount up to the benefit limit on the card.  

A portion of the purchase would be refunded to the customer in cash, while the full value of the transaction would be deposited in the stores' bank accounts, the indictment alleges.

The U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah filed two indictments in connection with the case.

Charges in a 28-count indictment include conspiracy to commit wire fraud; wire fraud; supplemental nutrition assistance benefits program fraud; access device fraud; conspiracy to commit money laundering; and money laundering.  

Charged in the indictment are Zia Atta, 38, of Ogden; Aweas Akbar Al-Quadri, 21, of Ogden; Naseer Hamad Durani, 39, of Rocklin, Calif.; Farad Said Farani, 36, of Ogden; Mariana Navarro Farani, 29, of Ogden; Seraj Ghasem Pour Babakandi, 23, of West Haven; Shershah Lodin, 39, of Pittsburg, Calif.; and Westside Valley Market, 873 W. 24th Street, Ogden.

Westside Market reported estimated annual food sales of $613,000. The indictment alleges it redeemed approximately $2.6 million in SNAP benefits.

A second 38-count indictment alleges similar charges. Charged in the complaint are Atta; Masood Aziz, 36, of Elk Grove, Calif.; Diana Funez, 19, of Ogden; Fidel Funez-Lion, 18, of Ogden; Sharara Haidari, 30, of Elk Grove, Calif.; Siavosh Sabri, 41, of Salt Lake City; and 9th Street Corner Market, 1390 9th Street, Ogden.

Corner Market reported annual sales of $420,000. It redeemed approximately $6 million in SNAP benefits, according to the indictment.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, the FBI, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and Ogden police.

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