BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) – The owner of a Fairfield Avenue grocery store in the city’s West End is facing a possible 20 years in prison on charges of food stamp fraud.
Aslam Khawaja, 48, a Pakistani national, is accused of buying food stamps at 50 cents on the dollar and then using them to stock his shelves at SK Grocery with hundreds of cases of Red Bull and other products.
An arrest affidavit says he used the food stamps, which he purchased from 128 of his customers, to buy more than $45,000 worth of merchandise offered for sale in the store.
“The poor people come in here and they need money so I help them,” Khawaja told the Connecticut Post. “Yes, I bought the Red Bull, but I sell it here, people really like it.”
Ray Singleton of the state Department of Social Services explains how authorities caught up with Khawaja.
“The vendor out in Bridgeport, who was part of a fraud investigation last year, saw again where a store owner had come in and started using multiple cards and then alerted us,” Singleton said.
The state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a $4 billion a year program that serves nearly half a million Connecticut residents. The assistance ranges from $189 a month for a single person to $632 a month for a household of four.
“There are those folks that are misinformed and there also are store owners and merchants who are misinformed about using the benefits properly,” Singleton said. “In addition to that, there are people who are misusing it intentionally.”
Food stamps cannot buy beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco, vitamins, medicine, food eaten in the store, pet food, soaps, paper products, grooming items, toothpaste or cosmetics.
They are good for breads, cereals, fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, milk. cheese and other dairy products and, yes, Red Bull.
Mark Davis reporting