Somerset man pleads guilty to $5 million of Food Stamps theft

NEWARK  –  Acting Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced recently that Muhammed Farooq, 49, of Somerset pleaded guilty on Sept. 11 before the Honorable Michael L. Ravin, Judge of the Superior Court, to one count of 2nd degree theft by deception in connection with a scheme to defraud the Food Stamp program.

Following a joint investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General Office, Homeland Security Investigations and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, Farooq was arrested on May 8 and charged with first degree money laundering, 2nd degree theft by deception and 4th degree unauthorized use of food stamps benefit cards.

As part of a plea agreement, Farooq entered a guilty plea to one count of theft by deception. He faces seven years in New Jersey State Prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 6 by Judge Ravin. He is currently free on $250,000 bail.

As part of the negotiated plea, Farooq has agreed to forfeit $832,830.01. In addition he faces a civil action from the Department of Agriculture for an estimated $5 million.

“The Food Stamp program is designed to help struggling families. By misusing the program, this defendant and the Food Stamp recipients who participated in this illegal scheme are stealing taxpayer money. We take these violations of the law seriously and will continue to crack down on those engaged in this kind of theft,” said Deputy Chief Assistant Prosecutor Walter J. Dirkin, who is in charge of the Financial Crimes Unit of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and prosecuted the case.

Over the course of a two and a half year period, starting in November 2010, Farooq illegally accepted Food Stamps for non-food items at four different dollar stores he owed and operated in Essex and Union, according to Dirkin.

The stores were Dollar Class at 119 Broad St. in Elizabeth; Dollar Industry at 771 Broad St., Newark; Dollar Time at 829 South Orange Ave. in East Orange; and Dollar Worth at 729 Broad St. in Newark.

“Food stamp patrons would come into the store and purchase electronic devices and other ineligible items,’’ said Angel Plaza, Jr., special agent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General Investigations North East Region.

Prosecutor Murray praised agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General Investigations North East Region, under the direction of Special Agent-In-Charge William G. Squires, Jr. She also thanked AngelPlaza, Jr., Special Agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Essex County Prosecutor Detective James Ventola for their excellent work on the case.

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