Grocery store manager stole nearly $5 million, feds say

In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, freshly cut stacks of $100 bills make their way down the line at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas. A man who managed a Birmingham, Alabama, grocery store pleaded guilty to food stamp and tax fraud charges.

In this Sept. 24, 2013, file photo, freshly cut stacks of $100 bills make their way down the line at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing Western Currency Facility in Fort Worth, Texas. A man who managed a Birmingham, Alabama, grocery store pleaded guilty to food stamp and tax fraud charges.

AP

A man accused of stealing nearly $5 million from the government while managing a grocery store in Alabama pleaded guilty to a food stamp and tax fraud scheme on July 6.

Prosecutors said he drained the Birmingham store’s bank account of more than $3.7 million by manipulating the national, federally funded food stamp program from 2014 to 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama said in a July 7 news release.

Lower-income families can receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program “so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Birmingham resident Omar Motley, 42, who managed the Big B Food Mart, must repay more than $4.6 million to the IRS and the USDA after pleading guilty to wire fraud and tax fraud charges, according to the attorney’s office.

“Motley diverted funds from the program to ultimately benefit himself,” Lisa Fontanette, the IRS-Criminal Investigation assistant special agent in charge, said in a statement.

“On top of that, he did not pay taxes; money which could have further helped our citizens.”

McClatchy News contacted Motley’s attorney for comment on July 8 and was awaiting a response.

Motley owes nearly $850,000 to the IRS and more than $3.8 million to the USDA after he was indicted in March 2021, the news release said.

The food stamp fraud

Through Motley’s position as the Big B Food Mart manager, he was an authorized signatory for the store’s bank account and could operate it on his own, court documents state.

Since the grocery store is a part of the SNAP Program, it can “sell certain eligible food items in exchange for food stamp benefits,” prosecutors said.

When a customer uses their food stamp benefits with an electronic benefit transfer card, similar to a debit card, the USDA funds “the respective payments of the SNAP benefit transactions to the authorized” store, according to court documents.

In this case, the money — the program’s benefits redemption payments — went to Big B Food Mart’s bank account, according to the attorney’s office, and Motley “took advantage” of that, Fontanette said.

From November 2014 to March 2017, Motley would illegally redeem “EBT SNAP benefits for cash and ineligible items,” according to the release.

As a result, investigators discovered that the benefits redeemed at the grocery store “were 52 times greater than similarly sized stores in the area,” prosecutors said.

The indictment alleges Motley was aware that his actions violated federal law.

The tax fraud

Motley is also accused of providing a false tax return to the IRS in 2015 after prosecutors said he overstated how much Big B Food Mart sold that year, court documents state.

In doing so, prosecutors said he received a large tax cut and cost the IRS $847,001.

Prosecutors also accused Motley of under-reporting how much money he received by redeeming SNAP benefits, the news release said.

“Motley showed a blatant disregard for others,” Fontanette said and called his guilty plea a “victory” for Birmingham.

His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 8, according to the news release. He faces a potential sentence of up to 23 years in prison in total.

Profile Image of Julia Marnin

Julia Marnin is a McClatchy National Real-Time reporter covering the southeast and northeast while based in New York. She’s an alumna of The College of New Jersey and joined McClatchy in 2021. Previously, she’s written for Newsweek, Modern Luxury, Gannett and more.