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RIVERHEAD, N.Y. — New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Office of Inspector General announced the felony conviction of a Long Island convenience store owner who admitted to stealing more than $668,000 from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Ravinder Parkash pleaded guilty Tuesday in Suffolk County Supreme Court.
Convicted alongside Parkash were his wife, Prabha Rani, and their corporation Shivani Enterprises Inc. Along with serving out jail sentences, the defendants must also pay $566,011.49 in restitution to SNAP and are jointly liable for doing so.
"Food stamp fraud is a direct betrayal of the trust of New York taxpayers and those who must rely on this important government program to feed their families," stated Schneiderman. "In addition, our investigation in this case turned up the theft of emergency benefits that were specially allocated for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. My office will continue to work diligently to pursue those who commit benefits fraud. We will bring them to justice, and we will preserve the integrity of this important social program."
Parkash pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the second degree, money laundering in the second degree, misuse of food stamps (over $50,000), four counts of falsifying business records in the first degree, and conspiracy. He will be sentenced to one and one-third to four years in state prison.
Rani pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the third degree, falsifying business records in the first degree, misuse of food stamps and conspiracy. She will be sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years' probation.
Shivani Enterprises, located at 415 E. Main St. in Riverhead, pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the second degree, 24 counts of grand larceny in the fourth degree and conspiracy. It will be dissolved.
"Our joint investigation with the New York State Attorney General's Office has brought to justice those individuals who sought to profit from SNAP through illegal schemes," said USDA OIG Special Agent-in-Charge William Squires Jr. "Those who are involved in fraud and abuse of SNAP and other USDA programs will be aggressively pursued by the USDA, Office of Inspector General, and we will continue to dedicate resources and work with our state and local law enforcement partners in order to protect the integrity of these programs and to prosecute those who commit fraud."
Following Hurricane Sandy, the USDA provided emergency benefits to all SNAP recipients in affected areas. Numerous recipients sold these benefits to Parkash and his wife for tens of thousands of dollars, according to the Attorney General. Parkash and Rani admitted to conspiring with dozens of SNAP cardholders to process phantom SNAP transactions at their c-store and gas station without selling any food between April 2010 and May 2013. The store owners paid SNAP recipients 50 percent of the value of their benefits and charged the USDA the full value of the phony transaction, keeping the difference. Parkash then laundered the proceeds through a bank account set up for New York State Lottery sales at the store.
As part of the case, 22 SNAP cardholders pleaded guilty to misuse of food stamps.