Four arrests have been made in Tallahassee in connection with a months-long investigation into a food stamp fraud scheme that also involved illegal gambling, racketeering and money laundering.

Detectives and agents seized large sums of U.S. Currency and several vehicles.

Large amounts of money and several vehicles were seized during the investigation of 132 suspects that resulted in the arrests of two men and two men – Wondwossen “Wondu” Gizaw-Tessema, 57, Eyerusalem “Jerry”Hiluf, 31, Firehiwot Gebre, 35, and Christabel Ekhosuehi, 29 in the Tallahassee area.

Hiluf is the mother of Gizaw-Tessema’s child according to county records.

The EBT food stamp operation centered around several businesses owned by Gizaw-Tessema, who was identified by authorities from the Leon County Sheriff’s Office as the ringleader who coordinated activities at his Wondu Marathon Convenience Store, Euro Fashions Boutique, One Stop College Market, Pretty Game Boutique and Belen Mart.

Employees at the businesses bought EBT cards at half their value from at least 100 welfare recipients, then use the cards to purchase items at “big box” discount stores like Sam’s Club and Costco that would be returned for cash.

Some EBT cardholders were instructed to use their cards to make the purchases themselves, and were sold beer, cigarettes and other items that are not approved food stamp purchases.

Agents and detectives found deposits of nearly $1.5 million into four different accounts, with Gizaw-Tessema making withdrawals of almost a half-million dollars during a three-month period.

Authorities note that while the other charges relating to gambling were serious, the bigger concern is the systematic defrauding of the food stamp program because it involved public funds.

The scheme is similar to one in which a Buffalo, New York Muslim man is being held on $2 million bail after being charged with engaging in a criminal scheme to misuse food stamp cards to defraud the government’s welfare system that provides essential benefits to the needy.

The Erie County District Attorney’s Office said Alshami bought food stamp cards from welfare recipients at half-price, then used the cards to purchase inventory for his deli at low-price stores like Walmart.

Alshami’s family made the news when his wife directed an obscenity toward America while her daughter signaled her anger at the legal system as they were filmed in the hallway of the courthouse when he was arraigned.



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