A Palm Springs man was arrested yesterday afternoon on charges that he illegally trafficked in food stamps benefits.
Haki Dervishi, 57, was arrested on November 15, 2012, by federal agents from the FBI and United States Department of Agriculture at the One Stop Shoppe, a gas station and convenience store owned by Dervishi and located in Indio, California. Dervishi was arrested on a federal indictment charging that, from 2010 through 2012, he illegally purchased food stamp benefits from One Stop Shoppe customers for cash at a discount, and then redeemed the food stamp benefits at their full face value for his own benefit.
The United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) is the federal agency responsible for the administration and implementation of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program (“FSP”), throughout the United States. The primary purpose of SNAP is to provide low-income individuals with funds to purchase eligible food items. Federal SNAP benefits are distributed by the states in the form of an electronic benefits card similar to an ATM card. Recipients of the benefits can then go to authorized merchants and purchase eligible food products with their cards.
One Stop Shoppe is authorized to sell food products for SNAP benefits. Federal agents with the USDA Office of Inspector General, received complaints in late 2011 that employees at One Stop Shoppe were exchanging SNAP benefits for cash. Agents discovered that the amount of SNAP redemptions at One Stop Shoppe had increased dramatically since 2008, from a monthly average of $2125.92 in 2008 to a monthly average of over $300,000 dollars through September of 2012.
The indictment alleges that Dervishi, who owns and operates One Stop Shoppe, bought food stamp benefits from customers at a discount for cash payments. According to the indictment, Dervishi and others would, for example, purchase $75.00 in SNAP benefits which were supposed to be used only for eligible food items, for $50.00 in cash and then redeem the benefits for their full $75 value. The indictment alleges that from January 2010 through September 2012, Dervishi and others caused to be redeemed approximately $3,900,000 in USDA SNAP benefits using the POS terminal registered to One Stop Shoppe, a substantial portion of which had been illegally purchased for cash.
If convicted on all counts, Dervishi faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in federal prison.