AG: Southold man charged in food stamps scheme

A Southold man was one of 10 people arrested in connection with a scheme to exchange food benefits for cash at a Mastic supermarket, totaling nearly $1 million, according to the New York State attorney general.

David Cantwell, 46, was arrested on felony charges of grand larceny and misuse of food stamps (over $1,000). He was one of seven cardholders of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program arrested along with store’s two owners and an employee, according to the attorney general, who unveiled a 25-count indictment Tuesday against the store owners.

The seven cardholders arrested received additional SNAP benefits following Hurricane Sandy. The federal government allocated an additional 50 percent in benefits to SNAP recipients in affected areas without regard to need. Mr. Cantwell allegedly exchanged those benefits for cash at Mastic Supermarket Corp. shortly after the storm, according to the attorney general.

“It’s unconscionable that anyone would steal from a program designed to provide nutritional assistance to New Yorkers in need, especially those harmed by Hurricane Sandy,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said in a statement.

The supermarket rang up more $564,000 in SNAP benefits, setting off an alarm because similar-sized stores were only generating between $14,000 and $24,000, the attorney general said.

Recipients of SNAP benefits are required to purchase specific food items. The seven cardholders arrested allegedly used their benefits in exchange for cash equaling half the amount of fake purchases. The store owners kept the remainder of the money for themselves, the attorney general said.

Manjeet Chadha, 48, of North Bellmore and Sajjad Rashid, 43, of Rocky Point were the co-owners arrested. Haricharan Malhotra, 41, of Mastic, was the employee arrested. They were all charged with felony grand larceny, misuse of food stamps and falsifying business records. Mr. Rashid and Mr. Malhotra face up to 15 years in prison if convicted and Mr. Chadha faces up to seven years.

Mr. Cantwell, along with three others charged, face up to four years.

Mr. Schneiderman also filed a civil suit Monday against the store owners, the employee and the corporation seeking restitution of $973,000.

The other SNAP recipients arrested were: Romie Harris, 45, of Mastic; Kristine Hensley Austin, 25, of Mastic Beach; Dawn Murphy, 33, of Mastic Beach; Brittany Sardella, 26, of Hampton Bays; Carolyn Gray, 25, of Mastic and Theresa Hubbard, 51, of Mastic Beach.

In June 2013, the owners of a Riverhead gas station were arrested in a similar scheme that was responsible for stealing more than $670,000. Nearly two dozen people were arrested in connection with that investigation by the attorney general.

[email protected]