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Anchorage market owner traded cash for federal food assistance, indictment says

Casey Grove

An Anchorage market owner allegedly gave recipients of federal food assistance cash for their benefits instead of food, while he took a cut of the money, according to an indictment.

A grand jury indicted Ayub Yusuf Eprahin, owner of African and Middle Eastern Market in Fairview, on 15 counts of wire fraud and 10 counts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fraud on Thursday. Federal agents arrested him Friday morning, a prosecutor said.

Through SNAP, as it is known, the federal government provides a card similar to a debit card that allows low-income individuals to buy approved food items at grocery stores. State officials administer the program in Alaska, and transactions are carried out through the bank JPMorgan, according to the indictment. Formerly known as the Food Stamp program, SNAP distributed $74.6 billion in food assistance in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.

Federal prosecutors say Eprahin, through his small market on 15th Avenue, abused the system and took his own, illegal share of some of the federal money. That was after getting USDA authorization, "which included notice that SNAP benefits could not be traded for cash," the indictment says.

From July 2011 to February 2013, Eprahin redeemed more than $335,000 in fraudulent SNAP benefits, according to the indictment. Prosecutors want Eprahin to pay back $42,400 -- the proposed forfeiture in the indictment -- they say he took in through the fraud.

The indictment appears to not include all of the fraudulent financial transactions related to giving out cash instead of food, which are the basis for the wire fraud charges. But the indictment lists 15 transactions ranging from $91 to $305 each.

Customers came and went from the small market Saturday. A young girl who said she was Eprahin's daughter was working behind the counter.

"He'll be back Tuesday," she said.

Eprahin is set to appear in court Tuesday to enter an initial plea in the case. Federal court records do not indicate that a detention hearing -- a defendant's first step in seeking release on bail while awaiting trial -- has been set yet.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.


By CASEY GROVE
casey.grove@adn.com