SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

December 14, 2013

Salem store owner admits fraud

Man found giving cash to EBT food stamp card users

SALEM — An average purchase by the user of an electronic benefits “food stamp” card, shopping at a Stop & Shop was about $33 back in 2010 and 2011.

But at the tiny Boston Street Market in Salem, more than 80 percent of those transactions were for at least $100 — despite the store’s limited inventory, a prosecutor said yesterday.

In fact, between that store and J&M Mini Mart in Lynn, there were more than $800,000 in such transactions in a year, prosecutor Phil Mallard told a Salem Superior Court judge yesterday.

Yesterday, the owner of both of those stores, Peter Jhonny Limat, 38, of Lynn, pleaded guilty to electronic funds transfer fraud during a hearing in Salem Superior Court. The prosecutor is asking a judge to send Limat to prison for three to five years.

Mallard described how an undercover investigator visited the two stores more than a dozen times in 2011, and was able to obtain cash with the card, which was designated as a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or “SNAP” card, good only for the purchase of food. The program is the successor to the food stamps program.

Mallard said the investigator was able to get cash at the two stores, which then recorded the transactions as food sales. The store would be paid a “fee” from the cash proceeds.

Most of the transactions were for amounts ranging from $100 to $200, said the prosecutor.

The total amount paid to the undercover investigator was just over $2,000, said Mallard.

The volume of activity at the two stores suggested that the undercover investigator wasn’t the only one using the businesses as an ATM, Mallard said.

But when it came time to admit to the allegations yesterday, Limat, in a thick Haitian accent, appeared to quarrel with the facts.

“People would say give me cash, I don’t have time to go to the ATM,” Limat told Judge Howard Whitehead.

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