A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Al-Idu Al-Gaheem to one year and one day in prison for his role in a scheme that bilked $3.8 million from the federal food stamp program.
Al-Gaheem, the former owner of two Dayton View businesses and the imam of Masjid At-Taqwa mosque, was the second of four defendants to be sentenced in the case. All four defendants have pleaded guilty.
Al-Gaheem faced as many as four years in prison after he pleaded guilty in August to felony charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, food stamp trafficking and structuring transactions to avoid reporting requirements.
Al-Gaheem, who previously was named Lawrence Phillips, was the owner of Five Pillars Market, 1263 W. Riverview Ave., and Riverview Cell & Cup of Dreams, 512 N. Broadway St.
Al-Gaheem worked and conspired with Abdul Yamini Sr., Abdul Qadir and Omar Yahya to defraud the food-assistance program. The men illegally paid customers 50 cents in cash for every $1 in food stamp benefits they redeemed.
Undercover law enforcement agents caught the defendants illegally trading cash for food stamp benefits and buying and selling products that are ineligible through the program, such as counterfeit clothing and firearms.
Authorities estimate that more than 1,000 transactions took place at Five Pillars Market that involved the illegal exchange of food benefits. The federal government deposited about $3.8 million into bank accounts controlled by Al-Gaheem and others as reimbursement for food benefits redeemed at Five Pillars.
Al-Gaheem repeatedly withdrew large amounts of cash from the bank account, but he always took out sums that were just less than the threshold that requires the filing of federal financial reports.
Al-Gaheem and the other defendants used the money they stole to renovate the Dayton View businesses and pay for personal expenses, such as rent, mortgage and other bills, said assistant U.S. Attorney Dwight Keller.
Keller urged Judge Timothy S. Black to give Al-Gaheem the maximum prison sentence to deter him from breaking the law in the future and also to send a message that this criminal activity will not be tolerated.
“Mr. Al-Gaheem is arguably the most culpable” defendant in the case, Keller said.
Al-Gaheem’s attorney James Fleisher argued that justice would best be served by placing his client on probation or house arrest, because Al-Gaheem is an important part of his community and some family members depend on him for caregiving and financial support.
Judge Black said although Al-Gaheem had an “extraordinarily impressive” record of good deeds and charitable actions, he could not ignore his role in the criminal enterprise by only giving him “a slap on the wrist.”
Black sentenced Al-Gaheem to the same prison term that he handed down to Qadir in November.
In addition to prison, Black also ordered Al-Gaheem to be placed on three years of community control after his release.
Al-Gaheem and the other co-defendants in the case will be ordered to pay $3.8 million in restitution to the federal government, even though authorities doubt that they can even come close to paying back the money they stole.
Yamini is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20. Yahya is scheduled to be sentenced in late February.
From our 2011 post, Ohio Imam Defrauds Taxpayers of $2 Million:
Al-Idu Al-Gaheem, the owner of Cup of Dreams and Five Pillars Market and a local imam, allegedly received more than $2.5 million in food stamp reimbursements from the federal government, between $890,000 and nearly $2 million of which was from “unexplained” food stamp charges, according to an IRS agent’s affidavit in support of seizing Al-Gaheem’s bank account.
For that he got 1 year. A lose-lose for taxpayers.