ASSOCIATED PRESS and NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Federal authorities and Seattle police have arrested three people and raided two grocery stores as part of what they describe as an undercover investigation into food stamp trafficking.
The U.S. attorney’s office said in a news release that the investigation focused on Seattle Chinese Herb & Grocery in the International District. The store allegedly hired “runners” to approach people who had just received their food stamp debit cards, ran the cards for a set amount, and then paid half that amount in cash to the recipients, who didn’t get any food.
When asked about the charges, an unidentified store employee at Seattle Chinese Herb & Grocery said her boss was not there and she didn’t know anything about the charges. When asked about the arrest of Elsa Ma Kwong, the store’s owner, the employee denied the arrest took place.
Prosecutors say the store claimed more than $2 million in food stamp redemptions from July 2009 to July 2010, the vast majority of them fraudulent.
“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the U.S. food stamp program) is a critical safety net for people who need to put food on the table,” U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan said in a statement. “We owe it to them and to taxpayers to stop this abuse. Those who corrupt the system for their own gain, we will hold accountable.”
Arrested were Kwong, 46, and two women, Ahn Thi Nguyen, 53, and Muoi Ly, 65, accused of being runners.
They faced initial court appearances Tuesday, Oct. 5, but have not entered pleas.
Fraudulent transactions allegedly also occurred at Hop Thanh Supermarket, according to documents.
Hop Thanh owner Mr. Che said, “We have not done anything wrong. What’s the crime? My attorney has already questioned the government. It’s just an investigation. There are no charges against us.”
“I complained about the government’s harassment of Asian Americans,” he added, explaining that a local news station aired an interview with a woman in front of his store, who talked about the food stamp trafficking, implicating his store. “We have nothing to do with the woman [who is allegedly facilitated the fraud]. We were there [in our store] the whole time and she was not there. But on TV, we saw the woman in front of our store. We were shocked. Someone put the woman there and framed us. We asked to see the report but the investigator would not let us see what he has written. It is hurting and affecting our business.”
Currently, Hop Thanh has signs posted in its store stating it no longer accepts food stamps.
According to KIRO-TV, “Food stamp fraud is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.” ♦
Assunta Ng contributed to this report.
The “owner” Mr. Che probably is only a paper owner. I think that this business is owned by another person. The owners that I know are not this Mr. Che. He appears to be a front man. In either case, they are lying! It reminds me of when the old lady got caught and she continued to profess that she had not sold food stamps. They give all Asians a bad name. I think we should throw them in jail and take all of their assets. They are GARBAGE and should be treated as such. I am Asian and feel ashamed that they are too. We work very hard to get what little respect from society already. They just make it harder. Disgraceful, lack of moral, pieces of $hit!
Another reason why there are not huge crowds in the I.D. enjoying a nice dinner anymore. These people are running around cashing in food stamps in the back alleys of restaurants and in front of grocery stores.
Community agencies such as ACRS who assist new immigrants and welfare recipients should educate their clients on how to use federal food stamps legally.
*typo on the last post
“They are messing with the government thus it WOULDN’T be hard for them to see their transaction history especially if they are rang up as 50, 100, 200, etc.”
I am a vietnamese american in my mid-20, my family goes to these grocery stores every week, we see this all the time and have actually submitted report. It’s about time that they got caught. The owner is a lady at one of the cash registers and the son works a clerk, they both are shady characters. They are messing with the government thus it would be hard for them to see their transaction history especially if they are rang up as 50, 100, 200, etc. They will be fined and the owner will probably serve time.
Kevin Lai says
I-Miun Liu says
The Hop Than owner is lying. I’ve seen that lady standing in front of the store multiple times never knowing what she was there for, but I guess we all know now. This is embarrassing that not only did the store get busted for stealing money from tax payers, and pretty much promoting drug use, he is now accusing the government of harassing Asian Americas. Face it, you got caught (one camera). Just be a man, pay back the money you stole from the community and do your time.
It’s no wonder the International District is getting over run by poverty, drug dealers, and prostitutes. Business like Hop Thanh and Seattle Chinese Herb and Grocery PROMOTE IT!