EAST HARLEM — Owners of a Taino Towers deli ripped off more than $2.7 million from taxpayers over the last five years by stealing money from a government food benefit program.
Starting in 2010, the owner Yunior Tineo and his stepson, Edwin Vargas charged a customer’s entire EBT card balance, gave them a portion of the cash and pocketed the rest, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance.
“The defendants would charge $100 to the EBT card for SNAP-eligible items, however they would in fact sell no eligible items and instead give the SNAP beneficiary $70 in cash, keeping the remaining $30 for themselves as profit,” said a statement by the DA.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is designed to give low-income families access to affordable and nutritious food.
Another part of the scam involved letting people buy cigarettes and alcohol with an EBT card and overcharging them for the unapproved items at the store, located at 2383 Second Ave.
In at least one instance, they charged as much as $100 for a six-pack of beer, which they would ring up as milk or other SNAP-approved items. The customer would pay by swiping an EBT card and the deli would report them as legitimate purchases to the government, according to the DA.
Tineo, 48, and Vargas, 24, pocketed nearly $650,000 between 2010 and 2012. That year they sold the store to four men — Menwer Amin, 52, and Talal Judah, 56, Samir Joudeh, 50, Wael Joudeh, 48, —for $250,000 in cash.
After selling the store Tineo and Vargas stayed on as scam consultants, teaching the new owners how to steal from the government program, according to the DA.
Between 2012 and 2015, the deli stole $2.1 million from the program.
Amin’s daughters, Anwar and Noufa Al Hajeh, worked at the store and received wire transfers in the country of Jordan from their father. More than $100,000 of the stolen money was transferred to Jordan, according prosecutors.
Eight people in all were charged with conspiracy, grand larceny, falsifying business records and misuse of food stamps. Amin and Judah were also charged with tax fraud.
The top charge, conspiracy, carries a maximum sentence of 8 and one-third to 25 years in prison, according to the DA.