Shop owner arrested in connection with massive food-stamp fraud

EVERETT, Wash. -- Police arrested a 34-year-old Everett business owner in connection with food-stamp fraud and trafficking in stolen goods, activities that reportedly netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars.

According to the Everett Police Department, Fraz Mushtaq, co-owner of A-1 Smoke & Grocery at 2625 Colby Ave., would have food-stamp recipients buy goods at other stores, purchase those goods from them for "pennies on the dollar," and resell the goods in his store for massive profits.

Investigators said Mushtaq also purchased and resold groceries and cigarettes shoplifted from nearby stores, including Safeway and QFC.

Long-time customer Jim Washington occasionally buys cigarettes at the downtown market, and said his suspicions have been raised a few times.

"Strange transactions taking place in the parking lot," Washington said. "People unloading stuff out of cars."

Investigators say Mushtaq sometimes gave these thieves itemized lists of inventory he needed re-stocked, then re-sold the stolen goods at his market.

"Soda, energy drinks, stuff like that," Washington said.

Mushtaq was arrested around 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at his Everett home and A-1 Smoke & Grocery was raided. He was booked into Snohomish County Jail for investigation of food-stamp trafficking, trafficking in stolen property and delivery of a controlled substance. Mushtaq is also facing possible charges of money laundering and criminal profiteering.

A 37-year-old named Ayaz Ahmed was also arrested for investigation of trafficking in stolen property as part of the investigation, which was conducted by the Everett Police Department, U.S. Marshal's Office, U.S. Attorney's Office, Safeway and QFC.

"This was a labor-intensive effort by our detectives, and their hard work paid off with today's arrest," Everett Police Chief Kathy Atwood said in a press release. "Food-stamp fraud is an under-the-radar crime that costs taxpayers millions of dollars every year."