CHICAGO — The owners of several Chicago-area convenience stores have been charged in federal court with scheming to defraud a low-income food program for women and children.
A 16-count indictment returned in U.S. District Court in Chicago alleges that from 2010 to 2019 the store owners and several workers schemed to fraudulently redeem checks from the Women, Infants, and Children (“WIC”) program, a federally funded initiative designed to provide a nutritious diet to moderate and low-income infants, children up to five years of age, and pregnant, breastfeeding, and post-partum women. The charges allege that the defendants knowingly allowed customers to provide their WIC checks as payment for ineligible items at the stores, often at inflated prices. Most of the nine stores identified in the indictment redeemed millions of dollars in WIC checks.
Charged with fraud are HASSAN ABDELLATIF, also known as “Eric,” 33, of Chicago, owner of El Milagro Mini Market and Harding Grocery in Chicago; HAMDAN HAMDAN, also known as “Tony,” 32, of Chicago, owner of La Villita Food Market in Chicago; EHAB KHRAIWISH, 27, of Tinley Park, Ill., owner of Mercado La Estrella in Elgin, Ill.; WALEED KHRAWISH, also known as “Wally,” 34, of Melrose Park, Ill., who worked at a convenience store in Melrose Park; ALAA HAMDAN, 35, of Chicago, who worked at Supermercado El Grande in Addison, Ill.; ERSELY ARITA-MEJIA, 39, of Arlington Heights, Ill., who worked at Star Mini Market in Mt. Prospect, Ill.; FORTINO HERNANDEZ, 38, of Addison, Ill., who worked at Supermercado El Grande in Addison; JEHAD KHRAWISH, 24, of Chicago, who worked at a convenience store in Melrose Park, Ill.; and MARISOL ZAVALA, 29, of McHenry, Ill., who worked at a convenience store in Elgin, Ill.
The indictment also charges Abdellatif with two tax offenses for allegedly willfully failing to file two years of corporate tax returns for Harding Grocery.
Most of the defendants made their initial appearances Wednesday in federal court in Chicago.
The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI; Anthony Mohatt, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Midwest Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General; and Justin Campbell, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the IRS Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheri L. Wong.
The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.