2 store owners in El Cajon arrested, suspected of food stamp fraud
Men accused of bilking nearly $500K from program
Last Updated: 72 days ago
EL CAJON, Calif. - Two store owners in El Cajon suspected of defrauding a federal and state food stamp program of nearly $500,000 have been arrested. The claims came to light after a yearlong undercover sting operation.
Those with limited financial means can buy groceries using an electronic food stamp card, which looks similar to a credit card. The store that sold the items gets reimbursed by the state.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the owner of Arturo's Market on El Cajon Boulevard and the owner of Athena Food on W. Main Street defrauded the state over a two-year period.
On Monday, federal agents arrested Rod Toma of Arturo's Market and Serror Zakar of Athena Food. They are suspected of electronically submitting hundreds of phony claims.
Both men and their stores had been part of a yearlong undercover probe.
The claims were for cash and prohibited non-food items like cosmetics and cleaning supplies.
10News asked EBT shopper Danita Young outside the store, "What if you wanted to buy shampoo? What if you wanted to buy Windex?"
"No," the mother responded. "You cannot use your EBT card."
Young has been buying food at Arturo's for herself and her 2-year-old daughter Kaliyah for the past four months until a sign recently appeared on the counter saying it is no longer accepted as payment.
"They haven't been able to use EBT because it has been down. That's the excuse they've told us," she added.
So, she had to go somewhere else to purchase food.
10News tried to speak with the store clerk at Arturo's Market but the doors were locked. No one was inside. Athena Food's doors were also locked, but 10News was told that it has been closed for about six weeks.
Both Toma and Zakar are expected to appear in court on Tuesday and could each face up to five years in prison.
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