Co-Conspirators Stole From Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Including Emergency Funds Allocated To Help Feed Those Left Hungry By Hurricane Sandy
(NEW YORK) Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, along with U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General representative William G. Squires Jr, today announced a 60-count indictment lodged against two Suffolk County store owners and 24 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) recipients for illegally trading cash for hundreds of thousands of dollars in SNAP benefits. Ravinder Parkash, 59, the owner of Shivani Enterprises, Inc., in Riverhead, is charged with felony Grand Larceny and Money Laundering for orchestrating a scheme to steal more than $670,000 from the government program. His wife, Prabha Rani, 58, and the two dozen recipients also face significant theft charges. If convicted, Parkash faces up to 15 years in prison. His wife faces up to 7 years behind bars. The recipients are faced with lesser counts of felony Grand Larceny and faced up to 4 years in prison.
“Plain and simple, these crimes are a betrayal of the trust of the people of New York and those who rely on this important government program to feed their families,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “The conduct alleged in this case became even more heinous when we found that the defendants stole emergency benefits for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and used it for their own selfish purposes. Not only do we seek to recoup the losses suffered by the food program, but we also intend to seek justice for the public and punishment for the perpetrators who defrauded it.”
USDA OIG, Special Agent-in-Charge, William G. Squires Jr. said, “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was created to provide food and nutrition to those who need assistance. Those who are involved in abusing SNAP and other USDA programs will be aggressively pursued by our office. The USDA Office of Inspector General will continue to dedicate resources and work with our Federal, State and local law enforcement partners in order to protect the integrity of these programs and to prosecute those who commit fraud.”
Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota said, “These defendants used phantom transactions to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from taxpayers, and exploited post-Sandy assistance to pocket even more illegal proceeds. I’m pleased that my office could assist Attorney General Schneiderman in apprehending these thieves.”
Traci Barnes, Assistant Commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, said, “SNAP is a vital social safety for families in Suffolk County who are at risk of going hungry, and it must be protected from fraud and abuse. I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for shutting down a scheme that drained resources from New Yorkers who truly need them.”
Attorney General Schneiderman filed a civil suit seeking restitution in an amount of $674,638 and damages in an amount of $2,023,914 for violations of the New York False Claims Act, against Ravinder Parkash, Prabha Rani and their business, Shivani Enterprises, Inc., which was also criminally charged.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the USDA allocated an additional 50% in benefits to all SNAP recipients in affected areas without regard to need. Each of the recipients charged in this case received Sandy benefit and illegally used their cards for cash in the months after the storm.
SNAP recipients are issued a benefit card to purchase specified food items. But, according to the indictment unsealed today, Parkash and his wife processed phantom SNAP transactions in cooperation with the 24 SNAP cardholders without selling them any food from April 2010 to June 2013. The owners gave the cardholders cash equalling up to half of the amount of the fake purchase and kept the remainder of the money for themselves.
The 18-month investigation revealed that in 2012 alone, Parkash and Rani rang up over $329,000 in SNAP benefits. That is significantly higther than stores located within a one mile radius of the business, where the totals were no higher than $6,439 and in one case just $371. In every month since November 2011, Parkash and Rani redeemed more than $22,000 in SNAP benefits. This number spiked to over $36,000 in November 2012 and $30,000 in December 2012, after all SNAP card holders in Suffolk County received the emergency Hurricane Sandy SNAP award equal to 50% of their monthly benefit.
The money laundering charge filed against Ravinder Parkash is the result of his use of a bank account set up for the use of New York State Lottery business that came into his store – but which he used to launder proceeds of his illegal scheme.
The individuals indicted today are:
Ravinder Parkash, 59, co-owner of Shivani Enterprises Inc, 415 E. Main St., Riverhead, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a “C” Felony; Money Laundering in the Second Degree, a “C” Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $50,000), a “C” Felony; four counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an “E” felony; and Conspiracy.
Prabha Rani, 58, owner of the property at 415 E. Main St., Riverhead, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a “D” Felony; Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an “E” Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $3,000), a “D” Felony; and Conspiracy.
Shivani Enterprises, Inc., the corporation located at 415 E. Main St., Riverhead, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a “C” Felony; 24-counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, an “E” felony; and Conspiracy.
The SNAP cardholders are each charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, an “E” Felony, and one count of Misuse of Food Stamps (over $1,000), an “E” Felony. They are Carla Anderson, 38, of Riverhead; Richard Andrychowski, 23, of Shirley; Jill Arrington, 38, of Calverton; Henry Brown, 55, of Bellport; Anthony Calloway, 36, of Riverhead; Kristy Carpenter 44, of Medford; Lakisha Darden,36, of Aquebogue; Dawn Davis,33, of Mastic Beach; Eric Dunsing, 37, of Riverhead; Kerri Ferrante, 27, of Riverhead; Shavon Goode, 30, of Riverhead; Josie Harris, 47, of Riverhead; Sirena Jackson, 35, of Riverhead; Lamont James, 40, of Riverhead; Jessica Kennedy, 27, of Riverhead; Cynthia Massenburg, 48, of Riverhead; Tameka Miles, 31, of Riverhead; Alesha Minter, 31, of Shirley; Stephanie Nash, 28, of Riverhead; Troy Smolen, 46, of Riverhead; and Sirena Trent, 38, of Riverhead.
Also indicted were Brenda Richardson, 50, of Riverhead; Eric Brown Jr., 24, of Riverhead; and Anthony Durham Jr., 26, of Riverhead. They have not yet been apprehended.
The charges are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Attorney General Schneiderman thanked the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service; the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office; the Suffolk County Department of Social Services; the New York State Police Troop L; the Riverhead Police Department; and the New York State Gaming Commission, Division of the Lottery; for their assistance in the investigation of this matter.
The case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Tyler Reynolds, Rhonda Greenstein, and Meryl Lutsky under the supervision of Bureau Chief Gail Heatherly of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.
The Attorney General recognizes the diligent work of the OAG’s Criminal Division staff, Legal Support Analyst Christina Lee; Investigators Steve Pratt and Vincent Gisonti; Senior Investigator Dennis Maddalone; Supervising Investigator John Sullivan; and Deputy Chief Investigators John McManus and Greg Stasiuk under the overall supervision of Dominick Zarrella, Chief Investigator.