EAST ST. LOUIS • Two businessmen from Swansea were sentenced to seven years and one month in federal prison and ordered to repay nearly $1.7 million in fraud-related losses to the food stamp program, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Qais Hussein, 43, and Majdi Odeh, 45, owners of two Garden Grill Market stores in East St. Louis, operated a conspiracy to buy food stamp benefits and Woman, Infant and Children vouchers from customers at some fraction of their face value, prosecutors said. That fraction was 50 to 60 percent for food stamps, they said. Hussein and Odeh, who are brothers, would also accept food stamp payments for ineligible items like tobacco, cellphones and purses, prosecutors said.
In addition to the prison time, the men were fined $12,500.
Hussein and Odeh pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to unlawfully acquire Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, aiding in the preparation of false tax returns and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
Prosecutors said that the brothers also helped prepare two false 2010 tax returns by under-reporting the income from the markets and sold fake watches, hats, DVDs and other items.
Five employees have also pleaded guilty to roles in the conspiracy and received sentences ranging from probation to the time one had already served in jail, in addition to fines and restitution.
Those employees are Hossam Ahmed, 25, of St. Louis, Alaa Jaber, 29, of Jersey City, N.J., Elsayed Hassan, 25, of East St. Louis, Rami Abou Amra, 37, of Troy, Ill., and Albraa Sabrah, 27, of Hazelwood, prosecutors said.
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This conspiracy allowed Hussein and Odeh to fraudulently receive over $1.6 million in electronic transfers to their bank accounts. The indictment also alleges that they filed false tax returns based upon the unreported fraudulent SNAP payments. Finally, the Grand Jury charged that both Hussein and Odeh in operating Garden Grill Market, II, Inc. illegally trafficked in counterfeit items from Casio, Major League Baseball, the Motion Picture Association, Prada, Coach, Fendi, Gucci and Juicy Couture.
Not mention of any of their citizenship status.