By Charles Sercombe
Four Bangladeshi market owners who were convicted of food stamp fraud were ordered to place a letter admitting their guilt in this newspaper for three weeks.
Federal Judge Avern Cohn told The Review he did this for one reason.
“I want them to be shamed,” Cohn said in a brief telephone conversation.
Cohn ordered the four, who are brothers, to have the letter printed in both English and Bangladesh and that it be published in The Review newspaper.
The brothers, Ali, Nazar, Mustak and Mohammed Ahmed, must also pay for the publication of the letter.
The letter of admission is on the front page of this issue.
In the letter, the brothers say:
“To readers, listen to us:
“If you cheat on food stamps you are committing a federal crime and will be punished for doing so. We know: We have been punished for cheating on food stamps.”
The four were part of 11 mostly Bangladeshi market owners who were charged with food stamp fraud in 2014 by the US Justice Department.
At press time Thursday it was not known what happened to the other seven people who were charged. A spokesman for the Detroit Justice Department promised to look into the matter.
At the time of the 2014 charges, the government said the fraud scheme was netting the suspects millions of dollars.
The four brothers, who operated Deshi Bazar on Conant, reaped over $500,000. They have each been ordered to pay restitution amounting between $500,000 and $700,000.
In addition, Ali Ahmed will serve nine months in prison, and the others will serve one day and be on probation for two years.
All of them were born in Bangladesh and became US citizens.
Prosecutors had sought to have Mohammed Ahmed serve additional prison time because he was also guilty of collecting welfare even though he was not qualified to do so.
Prosecutors also said the other brothers had improperly received public assistance.
The food stamp scheme was simple. People would exchange the cards for cash, usually for at least half their worth or a bit less, or for items that cannot be purchased using an EBT card, such as cigarettes and phone cards.
Reaction to the convictions and sentencing on social media has been mixed.
Some fellow Bengalis said the public shaming makes the entire Bangladeshi community look guilty.
“This is so embarrassing. Why people do that? And now cuz of certain people the whole community have to face embarrassment,” said Farzana Begum on a Facebook post on a group called The Hamtramck Community.
“And it’s not fair! Our elders are effed up and leaving sh*tty image for the new generation.”
Others said the punishment was too light.
“A slap on the wrist,” said Lolaa Bunnyy on the same Facebook page.
Nov. 9, 2018