The Portland grocery store welfare fraud case, explained

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Today, the full story on the welfare fraud investigation of a Portland grocery store; an outlaw forefather of Portland’s craft brewery scene; and a final reminder to register for our debate-watching/kitten-petting party.

What we’re talking about

Jake Bleiberg today broke down the details of a story that’s been making the rounds in the state:

Federal agents are investigating a Portland grocer on the suspicion of a welfare fraud scheme that may have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars, documents filed in federal court show. Ali Daham, who owns Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue, has not been charged with any crime, but investigators say that he has spent years allowing food stamp recipients to exchange their aid vouchers for cash and pocketing some of the proceeds.

For the full run-down on what the affidavit alleges, check out his full story here.

Here are the highlights:

— Investigators found that the small Portland grocery store was taking in welfare money on par with the 44,000-square-foot Hannaford supermarket up the street, and had an unusual frequency of large dollar transactions. 

— In April investigators seized computers, records, jewelery and nearly $70,000 from Daham.

— Despite the property seizures six months ago, no charges have been brought against Daham. Authorities have not elaborated on the court documents, nor indicated when and if charges will be brought, and a lawyer for Daham has denied any wrongdoing.

— Gov. Paul LePage has seized on the investigation as evidence that Maine needs to crack down on welfare fraud after the news was first reported by conservative news site LifeZette.com.

— Wondering how often it really happens? From 2010 to July of this year, 220 cases of welfare fraud prosecuted by the Maine Attorney General resulted in conviction or plea deal, with court ordered restitution totaling nearly $87 million. A Department of Justice spokesman said he did not have any statistics on how common federal welfare fraud cases are in Maine.

— Meanwhile, the BDN this evening broke the story that a state auditor determined the Maine Department of Health and Human Services misspent $13.4 million in federal welfare money.

In other news

This bootlegger was Portland’s original crafty brewer — Troy Bennett continues his month-long series profiling those buried around Portland with his story about a forefather of today’s thriving local brewery/distillery scene.

Portland police chief appears in new Question 3 ad — Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck appears in a new advertisement encouraging people to vote in favor of Question 3, a ballot measure that would extend the requirement for criminal background checks to most private gun sales and transfers. The ad — paid for by Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership — features Sauschuck touting police support for the measure. Other state law enforcement agencies, however, have voiced concern with and opposition to the proposed law.  — Jake Bleiberg

Last call to reserve a ticket to our debate-watching/kitten-petting party tomorrow — The tickets are going faster as we approach the event — 8 p.m. tomorrow, here at Think Tank Coworking on Congress Street. There are only about 20 spots left.

The Big Idea

LePage promised transparency, but multimillion-dollar contract awards remain in the shadows —  Danielle McLean of the Maine Focus team reports:

Each year, Maine state government uses millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase thousands of goods and services from outside organizations. Usually through a competitive bidding process, the state aims to select businesses and nonprofits that will provide the highest quality results for the lowest price.

But as the LePage administration touts and ramps up competitive procurement, it is nearly impossible for Maine residents to know how much state money is being spent on contracted services, which private businesses and nonprofit organizations receive large state contracts, and why those vendors won the work.


Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at dmacleod@bangordailynews.com, or tweet @dsmacleod.

As always, like BDN Portland on Facebook for more local coverage.

Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the editor of BDN Portland. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.