LORAIN — A Lorain business and six Lorain County residents were charged as part of a $582,000 food stamp fraud operation.
Adames Deli and Grocery Inc., 1700 E. 31st St., was indicted on one count of theft and 10 counts of illegal use of food stamps Wednesday by the Lorain County grand jury. The indictment was part of a 15-month investigation by the Ohio Investigative Unit, the Lorain Police Department and Lorain County Drug Task Force.
Among those charged with illegal use of food stamps was Erica Perez, 29, of Lorain.
Perez was sentenced to probation in January after she was convicted of seven counts of child endangering and resisting arrest. Perez was arrested July 5 after police found her seven children — one child was not home — in a filthy home with very little food.
Also charged with illegal use of food stamps were Lorain residents Monica Perez and Lydia Vega, both 31, and Elyria residents Malivnanh Phouthavong, 23, and Marlon Charley, 38.
Greg Croft, the agent in charge of the Cleveland District Office for the Ohio Department of Public Safety Investigative Unit, said he could not comment on the specific charges, but he said five of the people who were indicted admitted to making illegal purchases with their food stamp cards.
Perez was under investigation prior to her arrest in July in relation to the food stamp fraud, he said.
The investigation of Adames Deli and Grocery began 15 months ago after a citizen’s complaint to the Ohio Investigative Unit. Investigators used a confidential informant to purchase newspapers, lighters and cigarettes at the store, he said, and the informant also was able to pay off a cell phone card using food stamp benefits.
“It was a typical low-scale operation,” he said. “At least, that’s what we thought at the time.”
During the course of the investigation, Croft said investigators allege that the business operator, Rafeal Coll, 41, of Lorain, had been defrauding the food stamp system for three years, resulting in a theft of $582,000. Coll was indicted on 10 counts of illegal use of food stamps.
According to the Ohio Investigative Unit, it is illegal to use someone else’s food stamp card or sell a food stamp card. It is also illegal to purchase beer, liquor, cigarettes or other non-food items with the card.
The owner of Adames Deli and Grocery was not charged as investigators could not prove he had participated in food stamp fraud.
“The owner was actually out of state,” Croft said. “We couldn’t link him to any involvement.”
A phone number listed for Adames Deli and Grocery was not a working number, and the store was closed Friday afternoon.
According to a news release from the Ohio Investigative Unit, the findings of the investigation will be presented to the Liquor Control Commission after criminal proceedings are complete. Possible penalties include fines or a suspension or revocation of the store’s liquor permit.
Croft said the investigation was not related to an investigation at Shopway Food Mart in Elyria, which was closed temporarily after investigators at the Ohio Investigative Unit uncovered what they believe was food stamp fraud involving the store and a nearby cake shop. He said, however, that investigators will continue to examine complaints from area residents.
Anyone who suspects retailers are participating in food stamp fraud are encouraged to contact the Ohio Investigative Unit by dialing #677 on their cell phones.
“It’s not just the taxpayers that are paying the price, it’s the children who have to go without food,” Croft said. “It’s a shame. Every time we do these investigations, it just breaks my heart.”
Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.