Swansea business owner ordered to repay $1.2 million in stolen SNAP benefits

A federal judge ordered a metro-east business owner to repay the government more than $1.2 million after he admitted to using his small grocery in a fraud scheme to obtain SNAP benefits.

Almahde H. Nijmeh, 65, of Swansea, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful acquisition of SNAP benefits in August 2023. In addition to repaying the government, Nijmeh was sentenced to five years in federal prison and two years of supervised release.

“Millions of Americans rely on SNAP benefits to provide nutritious food for their families, but individuals who misuse the program to commit fraud and enrich themselves are breaking federal law,” said Rachelle Aud Crowe, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois.

The federal government funds SNAP – or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – to provide food benefits to low-income families.

According to court documents, Nijmeh had been disqualified from the program in the past, but successfully reapplied by listing the business to family members. He then used East Side Meat Market in East St. Louis to accept SNAP cards loaded with benefits in exchange for cash and other items from at least August 2017 through November 2021.

According to state records, the business was licensed to members of Nijmeh’s family, but the criminal charges alleged that Nijmeh himself was the de facto owner and operator of the business.

Nijmeh and employees under his direction routinely purchased SNAP cards from customers in exchange for cash equal to 50% or less of the benefits. They also accepted SNAP benefits for ineligible items like alcohol and tobacco products, at times up-charging customers for the illegal transactions.

“In other words,” the criminal complaint said, “customers would pay more for ineligible items purchased with SNAP benefits than they would if purchasing the same items using any other form of payment.”

In total, Nijmeh acquired $1,239,546.79 in the illegal transactions, records say.

USDA-OIG, Homeland Security Investigations, and the Illinois Department of Revenue contributed to this criminal case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter T. Reed prosecuted the case.