The IGA Express Mart on Ludington Street in Buffalo was ordered closed today after the city revoked its license following the indictment of its owner/operator, Ahmed Alshami, for welfare fraud connected to EBT cards and other complaints from the community.
Alshami, 37, was charged in late August after investigators said he was buying EBT (food stamp) cards from people for one-half their value and then using the EBT cards illegally to buy supplies to sell in his corner deli. It is alleged that the activity went on between October 2014 to March 2016.
He was also charged with burglary for entering a rental property on Davey Street in March 2016 and taking kitchen cabinets, hot water tank and baseboard heating units.
Alshami is being held on $2,000,000 bail with another court appearance scheduled for October 20th.
However, his wife and co-owner, Nadia Alhaj, said she is now left with no way to support her 4 kids, 2 brothers and mother.
"They took everything away from me," sobbed Nadia Alhaj.
The Yemen-born woman said the store was the family's only source of income for the past five years, and without it, she feared not being able to make her mortgage payments or pay monthly bills.
"How am I going to protect my kids and work for my family?" asked Alhaj, who added that she didn't know if her husband was guilty or not.
Family members insist allegations have unfairly tarnished the reputation of Nadia Alhaj who is listed as the business owner.
The family hung signs on their property trying to get support to reopen and organized a protest/gathering this week. It was ended when police were called after receiving complaints from neighbors about an open fire and noise.
Buffalo Councilman Richard Fontana and the Lovejoy Community Association pushed for the store closing claiming it was a problem in the neighborhood for some time. A co-director from the Lovejoy Community Association said there were concerns that the store was improperly selling merchandise, like untaxed cigarettes, and becoming a hang-out for the drug crowd. The food stamp fraud case being the most recent issue to upset residents in the neighborhood.
Acting Erie County District Attorney Michael Flaherty, Jr. said the county is trying to take a more aggressive approach to fighting food stamp fraud.
"This is a big problem because any time you steal from the taxpayers, that is a dollar that could be doing good and is instead going to fraud," said Flaherty.
Besides jail time, Alshami could also face deportation if convicted.
7 Eyewitness News Reporter Ed Reilly talked with people on both sides of the issue in his report.
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