Commentary

Massive Welfare Fraud Case Ignored by Maine Media

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Today, LifeZette brought to light the story of a massive welfare and tax fraud case from Portland, Maine, highlighting a scheme that swindled taxpayers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You may be wondering why a Washington, D.C. based news source, has brought this story forward. The answer is simple, Maine’s news media outlets decided to not bring this story to light. According to LifeZette editor Garrett Murch, “Multiple Maine news outlets had this story but decided not to cover it.”

But perhaps Maine’s media outlets have taken their que from the Obama administration, which has failed to bring charges forward, in spite of a damning 52-page affidavit by an FBI agent.

The affidavit tells the story of how Ali Ratib Daham, owner of the Ahram Halal Market in Portland, and his accomplice Ashraf Eldeknawey used the storefront to rip off the government, falsify documents and file fraudulent tax forms for recent immigrants to the Portland area.

Last summer, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services reported the case to federal investigators after the number of food stamp and Women, Infant and Children (WIC) welfare program redemptions claimed by the store skyrocketed within a two-year period.

According to the affidavit, “…the exponential growth of Ahram’s WIC redemptions along with their total dollar volume of WIC redemptions are indicative of trafficking in WIC vouchers.”

As a result, the feds opened up a case in July of 2015 and repeatedly sent an undercover witness into the market beginning late last year. The undercover witness, who posed as a recent immigrant, was coached by Daham on how to falsify information to obtain the most welfare dollars, how to evade work requirements and how to fraudulently obtain disability payments.

Once the resulting welfare benefits began to flow, the witness repeatedly went into the store to make small purchases, walking out with a pocket full of cash from either the cash register or the store owner’s pocket each time.

According to LifeZette, “A review of Daham’s bank account showed a pattern of large cash withdrawals in the middle of each month, coinciding with when food stamp recipients receive their benefits in Maine, according to the affidavit. The FBI agent who wrote the document indicated that the withdrawals were necessary in order to have enough cash to “buy” food stamp funds from recipients.”

As if this isn’t bad enough, the scheme also included extensive tax fraud. In April, the undercover witness used some of the cash Daham helped him rip off from the government to pay Eldeknawey to prepare a completely falsified tax return out of an office by the meat counter in the Portland store. The tax return utilized the Earned Income Tax Credit to obtain a refund of $2,326.

According to the affidavit, Eldeknawey filed 66 returns in 2014 totaling $235,784 in returns and another 192 returns last year, of which all claims received refunds.

To read the full story and the affidavit for yourself, click here.

While the narrative of this story goes against those perpetuated by some major media outlets in Maine, it’s hard to imagine that not one of them deemed this story worthy of coverage, yet there’s room for biased, one-sided hit stories such as this one.

It’s time to bring some integrity back to Maine journalism.

About Krysta West

Krysta West is the Communications Director for The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Prior to her time with MHPC, Krysta served as a Legislative Assistant at the National Rifle Association. Krysta is a native of Arundel, Maine, and has served as an aide in the Maine Legislature.

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