DeKalb store owner sentenced to federal prison for food stamps scheme

A former DeKalb County convenience store owner convicted of trafficking food stamps has been sentenced to federal prison, authorities said Monday.

Tessema Lulseged, 49, of Decatur, has been sentenced to four years and three months in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, U.S. Attorney Horn said in a statement.

He was also ordered to pay more than $5.9 million in restitution.

Lulseged was convicted July 7, after he pleaded guilty to allowing his customers to exchange their food stamps for cash, Horn said. When he owned and operated Decatur’s Big T Supermarket, Lulseged offered customers 60 cents on the dollar and required them to purchase additional products from his store, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.

Authorities believe Lulseged made more than $6 million through the scheme from January 2009 through April 2014. Federal authorities seized more than $700,000, as well as Lulseged’s home and store, in 2014.

The government also forfeited two pieces of real property: the defendant’s personal residence in Gray, Ga., and his store property in Decatur, on the grounds that they were proceeds of the fraud and properties involved in money laundering transactions, Horn said.

“The purpose of the food stamp program is to offer low-income citizens nutritional assistance,” he said. “This defendant undermined the program solely for his own profit and cost taxpayers more than $6.5 million.”

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