The owners of a second Wichita grocery pleaded guilty Tuesday in a food stamp scheme that unraveled after a months-long investigation involving undercover informants, surveillance of the stores and computerized fraud detection systems.


The owners of a second Wichita grocery pleaded guilty Tuesday in a food stamp scheme that unraveled after a months-long investigation involving undercover informants, surveillance of the stores and computerized fraud detection systems.

Muhammad Qadeer Akram, 46, and his 38-year-old wife, Shama Qadeer, pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count each of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud, food stamp fraud and wire fraud. The couple, who own Alnoor Grocery and Biryani House in Wichita, also agreed to the entry of a forfeiture judgment of $262,900 against them.

Their sentencing is set for Dec. 7. They face up to 20 years in prison, although they are likely to get far less, if any, prison time under federal sentencing guidelines.

As part of the plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of federal sentencing guidelines for both defendants.

The couple admitted in their plea deal that they conspired to defraud the Agriculture Department by giving cash to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly known as food stamps. The store owners typically gave recipients 50 to 60 cents on the dollar for the value of their food stamp and pocketed the difference.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brent Anderson accused the owners of two small stores — the Kansas Food Market and the Alnoor Grocery and Biryani House — with conspiring with Wally Mikhael Gaggo, the runner who scoured homeless shelters for people willing to sell their government benefits.

The government filed in March two indictments charging 13 people in a scheme that defrauded the government out of more than $580,000. So far, all but two have pleaded guilty to related charges.

One of the defendants, Tequita Higgins, 28, of Wichita also pleaded guilty Tuesday to food stamp fraud after admitting she received $150 cash in return for a $308 SNAP transaction.

Among the transactions at their store cited in the indictment involved an undercover agent who was given $180 in cash after Shama Qadeer ran two electronic benefit transactions for $202.10 and for $101.50 in November 2010. The court documents allege she retrieved some of the cash from inside her blouse, and the informant bought only chewing gun and a package of cookies.

Prosecutors allege the conspiracy involving Alnoor Grocery included some 1,900 fraudulent transactions totaling $450,000 between February 2010 and February 2011. At least 125 food stamp recipients were involved in that case.

A separate indictment involving Kansas Food Market charges owner Ahmed Ajami Al-Maleki in an alleged scheme that authorities say fraudulently netted $130,000 in some 750 transactions involving at least 100 food stamp recipients.

Kansas Food Market owner Ahmed Ajami Al-Maleki faces sentencing Nov. 21, while Gaggo's sentencing is set for Oct. 17.

The other defendants were all food stamp recipients accused of unlawfully selling their benefits for cash. Trials for the two remaining defendants who are fighting the charges, Mpeka Magari and Sohbi Dana, are set for Oct. 4 and Nov. 27, respectively.