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Ex-Waukegan grocer gets 2 1/2 years in prison for food stamp fraud

Updated: February 26, 2013 1:19AM

A former Waukegan grocer has been sentenced to 2½ years in federal prison for defrauding the government’s food stamp program of more than $844,000, officials said Monday.

Khaled Saleh and his wife owned Sunset Food Market in Waukegan, prosecutors said.

In court papers, Khaled Saleh accused his business partner of showing him how to steal from the food stamp program. The partner, who did not work in the store, has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Thousands of times, Saleh and his wife illegally provided cash to customers who made fake purchases with LINK food stamps and nutrition coupons. Typically, they provided customers with 50 cents for every dollar in redeemed benefits and kept the rest as profit.

They also bought infant formula and other products from customers who bought the items at other stores with their federal nutrition benefits. They paid half price for the items, officials said.

Last year, the couple pleaded guilty to the fraud. Salah’s wife, Fatima Saleh, is scheduled for sentencing on March 22. She has asked the court not to send her to prison because she needs to care for her four children. She also claims her husband bore more responsibility for the fraud.

Judge Charles Norgle sentenced Khaled Saleh on Friday. Prosecutors had sought a sentence of at least 2½ years in prison to send a message to other storeowners that ripping off the food stamp program is dangerous. In court papers, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago said the couple used the program like a “personal ATM machine.”

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and other authorities have warned that fraud in the food stamp program is rampant. The expanding program paid out $34 billion in benefits in 2008 and more than $71 billion in 2011.

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