by Denise Civiletti
The husband-and-wife owners of a Riverhead gas station are facing multiple felony charges under a 60-count indictment unsealed today in Suffolk County criminal court.
Ravinder Parkash, 59, the owner of Shivani Enterprises, Inc., which operates the Gulf gas station and convenience store on East Main Street, next to the aquarium, is facing felony grand larceny and money laundering for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to steal more than $670,000 from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including emergency funds allocated to help feed those left hungry by Hurricane Sandy, according to N.Y. state attorney general Eric Schneiderman.
His wife, Prabha Rani, 58, and the two dozen recipients of SNAP benefits also face significant theft charges, according to the attorney general.
“Plain and simple, these crimes are a betrayal of the trust of the people of New York and those who rely on this important government program to feed their families,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “The conduct alleged in this case became even more heinous when we found that the defendants stole emergency benefits for victims of Hurricane Sandy, and used it for their own selfish purposes. Not only do we seek to recoup the losses suffered by the food program, but we also intend to seek justice for the public and punishment for the perpetrators who defrauded it.”
Schneiderman filed a civil suit seeking restitution in an amount of $674,638 and damages in an amount of $2,023,914 for violations of the New York False Claims Act, against Parkash, Rani and their corporation, which was also criminally charged.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the USDA allocated an additional 50 percent in benefits to all SNAP recipients in affected areas without regard to need. Each of the recipients charged in this case received the Sandy benefit and illegally used their cards for cash in the months after the storm, Schneiderman said.
SNAP recipients are issued a benefit card to purchase specified food items. But, according to the indictment unsealed today, Parkash and his wife allegedly processed phantom SNAP transactions in cooperation with the 24 SNAP cardholders without selling them any food, from April 2010 to June 2013. The owners gave the cardholders cash equalling up to half of the amount of the fake purchase and kept the remainder of the money for themselves, Schneiderman said.
The 18-month investigation revealed that in 2012 alone, Parkash and Rani rang up over $329,000 in SNAP benefits,according to the attorney general. That is significantly higther than stores located within a one mile radius of the business, where the totals were no higher than $6,439 and in one case just $371. In every month since November 2011, Parkash and Rani redeemed more than $22,000 in SNAP benefits, the AG said. This number spiked to over $36,000 in November 2012 and $30,000 in December 2012, after all SNAP card holders in Suffolk County received the emergency Hurricane Sandy SNAP award equal to 50 percent of their monthly benefit, Schneiderman said.
The money laundering charge filed against Ravinder Parkash is the result of his use of a bank account set up for the use of New York State Lottery business that came into his store - but which he used to launder proceeds of his illegal scheme, Schneiderman said.
If convicted, Parkash faces up to 15 years in prison. His wife faces up to 7 years behind bars. The recipients are faced with lesser counts of felony Grand Larceny and faced up to 4 years in prison.
The individuals indicted today are:
Ravinder Parkash, 59, co-owner of Shivani Enterprises Inc, 415 E. Main St., Riverhead, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a "C" Felony; Money Laundering in the Second Degree, a "C" Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $50,000), a "C" Felony; four counts of Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an "E" felony; and Conspiracy.
Prabha Rani, 58, owner of the property at 415 E. Main St., Riverhead, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a "D" Felony; Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, an "E" Felony; Misuse of Food Stamps (over $3,000), a "D" Felony; and Conspiracy.
Shivani Enterprises, Inc., the corporation located at 415 E. Main St., Riverhead, is charged with Grand Larceny in the Second Degree, a "C" Felony; 24-counts of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, an "E" felony; and Conspiracy.
The SNAP cardholders are each charged with one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, an "E" Felony, and one count of Misuse of Food Stamps (over $1,000), an "E" Felony. They are Carla Anderson, 38, of Riverhead; Richard Andrychowski, 23, of Shirley; Jill Arrington, 38, of Calverton; Henry Brown, 55, of Bellport; Anthony Calloway, 36, of Riverhead; Kristy Carpenter 44, of Medford; Lakisha Darden,36, of Aquebogue; Dawn Davis,33, of Mastic Beach; Eric Dunsing, 37, of Riverhead; Kerri Ferrante, 27, of Riverhead; Shavon Goode, 30, of Riverhead; Josie Harris, 47, of Riverhead; Sirena Jackson, 35, of Riverhead; Lamont James, 40, of Riverhead; Jessica Kennedy, 27, of Riverhead; Cynthia Massenburg, 48, of Riverhead; Tameka Miles, 31, of Riverhead; Alesha Minter, 31, of Shirley; Stephanie Nash, 28, of Riverhead; Troy Smolen, 46, of Riverhead; and Sirena Trent, 38, of Riverhead.
Also indicted were Brenda Richardson, 50, of Riverhead; Eric Brown Jr., 24, of Riverhead; and Anthony Durham Jr., 26, of Riverhead. They have not yet been apprehended.
Editor's note: A criminal charge is an accusation. By law, a person charged with a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.