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Terror Suspect Accused of Food Stamp Scam

July 8, 2004

CHICAGO (AP) _ A man suspected in Florida of having ties to an Islamic terrorist organization was arrested after an indictment accused him of making $1.6 million in phony food stamp transactions.

Hatem Fariz, 31, pleaded innocent Wednesday to wire and mail fraud charges. Another hearing was set for Monday and prosecutors said they planned to ask that Fariz be held without bail.

Prosecutors said Fariz defrauded the food stamp program five years ago at a store he owned in Chicago. Defense attorney Luis Galvan declined to comment on the charges.

Fariz lives in Spring Hill, Fla., where he is free on $1.1 million bail while awaiting trial on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges in a separate case accusing him of being a member of a terrorist organization. He was arrested Wednesday at his mother’s home near Chicago.

According to the Chicago indictment, Fariz and his employees rang up transactions on customers’ food stamp debit cards from May 1999 to December 2000. Under the indictment, the cardholders received cash instead of groceries, and Fariz collected a fee.

``He used the ... card like an ATM machine, a high-priced ATM where you’d take a fee for trading for cash,″ said prosecutor James Barz.

Prosecutors would not say how much of that money ended up in Fariz’s pocket, but the store redeemed $1.6 million in electronic food stamp transactions while having only $149,000 in total food sales.

In the Florida case, Fariz and others, including former University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, are accused of being members of a cell of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a group allegedly responsible for at least 100 killings in Israel.

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