Maine Gov. Paul LePage is objecting to a break the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Obama administration gave a halal market that made fraudulent food stamp transactions.
But federal officials told LifeZette the decision is final.
The case involves Sindbad Market in Portland. According to the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General, the market made four fraudulent transactions with three ineligible customers. Because the owner was personally involved in one of the transactions, that ordinarily would trigger a one-year suspension of the ability to accept food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
But an attorney for Sindbad Market asked for and received an exemption in September on grounds that suspension would cause a hardship for Muslim food stamp recipients, who rely on the market for its preparation of halal meat, in accordance with Islamic law. The federal government agreed to impose a $33,000 fine instead.
“In consideration of the attorney’s response and our analysis of other SNAP retailers in the area, it was our determination that disqualification of Sindibad [sic] Market LLC would cause a hardship for SNAP households due to no comparable stores within a one mile radius,” a federal document states.
LePage, who has made rooting out social services fraud a central feature of his administration, criticized leniency for the rule-breaker.
“I don’t agree with the last administration,” LePage told LifeZette. “I think they should have been suspended. If you have rules, you need to follow the rules. The problem with the previous administration is they were very, very weak on fraud. In fact, they were so weak, it was an incentive to get into fraud.”
Under Department of Agriculture regulations, federal officials consider whether there are comparable vendors within a mile radius of the store that has committed a violation. In this case, according to the documents, there is another medium grocery store within a mile of Sindbad. Makkah Halal Market, is a medium specialty grocery little more than a tenth of a mile away.
But investigators from the Agriculture Department determined that the store does not sell fresh halal meat, only frozen.
“It was felt the subject store’s disqualification would cause a hardship to SNAP households due to the absence of comparable stores offering fresh meat products (Halal) within one mile of the subject store,” the document states.
LePage rejected that.
“I spoke to the people in the other market, and they said there shouldn’t be a difference,” he said.
Jalil Isa, a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said the federal government gives flexibility to states in managing the federally funded food stamp program.
“But as far as the penalties are concerned, this is something that very much falls in the purview of the federal jurisdiction,” he said.
Isa said the market already has paid the fine and that the decision is final.
Maybe, Jalil Isa, is part of the rampant Muslim food stamp fraud problem and why these Muslims were exempted.
It should be noted that an ISIS terrorist frequented the store.