The owner of Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue in Portland and his brother were charged Tuesday with conspiring to defraud the United States of tens of thousands of dollars in welfare benefits intended to help struggling families.
In October 2016, the conservative news site LifeZette.com broke the story of Ali Ratib Daham and his brother, Abdulkareem Daham, who were being investigated by the FBI after Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services found an unusual number of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) redemptions at their Portland store.
An investigation into the store found that WIC redemptions also increased exponentially, jumping from $87,352 in 2013 to $268,047 in 2015, a 308 percent increase. Neighboring stores did not see similar spikes, and the redemptions at Ahram Market exceeded that of a local Hannaford supermarket.
Ali Daham, the owner of Ahram Halal Market, also received charges for money laundering, wire fraud, trafficking welfare vouchers and theft of the federal government.
Federal investigators sent undercover operatives into the store in September 2015 and found that Ali Daham was informing customers how they could falsify information on federal documents to receive the highest amount of benefits from the U.S. Government. Additionally, the market was exchanging cash for SNAP benefits and WIC checks, depositing the money into a bank account mixed with legitimate and fraudulent SNAP transactions. In total, it’s alleged that the Daham’s transferred approximately $3.5 million in SNAP funds into the account from July 2011 through April 2016.
An affidavit filed in April 2016 alleges Ali Daham also filed fraudulent tax returns and was receiving food stamps himself during this time, despite owning a limited liability company that was purchasing properties in Portland and Westbrook.
Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew applauded investigation, saying “I am committed to maintaining this focus to ensure our limited taxpayer dollars are going toward those who truly need them.”
According to the Portland Press Herald, Walter McKee, an Augusta attorney representing Ali Daham, anticipates his client will enter a “not guily” plea to all charges against him.
The Daham brothers each could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charges. Ali Daham faces 20 years if convicted of wire fraud and 10 years for the theft charge.
A court date has not yet been set for the Daham brothers.