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A Southeast Portland convenience store owner who allowed recipients of the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to obtain cash instead of food has been sentenced to nearly two years in prison.

According to The Oregonian, Nasr Iskander, 39, who operated a minimart at a Shell gas station, paid customers 50 cents for every dollar of their welfare benefits. Iskander perpetrated the money-making scheme by adding a false charge for food, and giving the SNAP recipient half of the value of the transaction in cash.

A probable cause affidavit revealed that, Iskander, for example, might have falsely charged $100 worth of food to a SNAP recipient’s benefits card, then gave that person $50 in cash. Iskander would then profit $50 from the transaction.

Iskander’s scheme lasted more than three years, during which time he swindled the state of Oregon out of $189,000 which was intended to purchase food for low-income residents of the state.

Following Iskander’s arrest, he claimed that the unusually high amount of food sales to SNAP recipients at his store were attributable to a large quantities of Egyptian cheese and pita bread that customers were purchasing.

Robert Crow, Iskander’s defense attorney, declined to specifically address Iskander’s case, yet broadly claimed that the crime of a store owner cashing out from SNAP transactions is often a crime of desperation.

“I think a lot of the time, the store merchant is in dire straits: ‘I’ve got bills to pay, my store is failing. I’ve got to do something,’” Crow said. “No one is getting rich off of this type of crime.”

Iskander pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree aggravated theft, unlawfully obtaining public assistance and unlawfully using a food stamp benefit. In addition to being sentenced to 22 months in prison, Iskander must repay $189,000 to the state of Oregon.

A relative of Iskander’s, Karima Meshreki Hanna, 53, is jointly responsible for paying back the money because she worked at the store and was complicit in the scheme.

In 2017, Meshreki pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated first-degree theft and first-degree theft. As part of a plea agreement that included her cooperation in testifying against Iskander, she was sentenced to 90 days in jail followed by five years of probation.

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