New Jersey Couple Admits To $4.5M Food Stamp Fraud Scheme

Trisha Faulkner

Ibrahim Zughbi and his wife, Miriam, of New Jersey recently admitted to being part of a massive food stamp fraud scheme during which they exchanged SNAP benefits for cash. According to USA Today, the couple confessed to exchanging over $4.5 million worth of food stamps for cash over a period of four years.

The couple owned a Jamaica Meat Market located in Paterson, where they engaged in the fraudulent activities between the years of 2014 and 2018. Ibrahim had already been barred from accepting SNAP payments, because he had done the same thing at a previous business he had owned. So, he listed someone else as the owner of the meat market -- making it possible for him and his wife to utilize and abuse the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program again.

By having someone else listed as the owner of the meat market, Ibrahim's customers were able to come in and swipe their food stamp cards as a form of payment.

According to court documents, one example of the fraud included an incident when Ibrahim's customer would buy just $5 worth of food. He would ring the customer up for $75 worth of food, offer them some cash, and keep the extra cash for his own pocket.

USA Today confirms that Ibrahim has pleaded guilty to charges of fraud related to the food stamp program, and of money laundering. His wife, Miriam, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States government using the food stamps program.

Alan Zegas – the criminal attorney representing the couple – insisted that Ibrahim and his wife were not bad people. According to the attorney, the couple admits they have made a mistake, and apologized for doing so.

Zegas also felt it was important to clarify that the couple did not have the entire $4.5 million sitting in their bank account somewhere. The figure was the total sum of the sales price for all of the food stamp purchases that had been made during that four-year period at the meat market.

While it is unclear how much of the money the Zughbis kept for themselves, their lawyer insists it is "not close" to the sum of $4.5 million.

Both Ibrahim and Miriam could face up to four decades behind bars -- as well as a fine of $500,000. Miriam is also looking at the possibility of an additional five years, and a $250,000 fine, for her separate conspiracy charge.

Ibrahim and Miriam Zughbi are scheduled for a sentencing hearing on July 17 of this year.