Four men from towns including Palos Hills, Orland Park, Chicago Ridge and Bridgeview have been charged in connection with a year-long investigation into organized retail theft and LINK card fraud, the Cook County Sheriff’s office announced Thursday.
“Operation Broken LINK” targeted suburban convenience stores engaged in illegal practices involving the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards known in Illinois as “LINK.” The sting targeted 10 participants who owned or worked as sales clerks in convenience stores.
Malek Malkawi, age unknown, of the 7100 block of W. 99th St, in Chicago Ridge, was charged on multiple counts of wire fraud, theft of government property and continuing financial crimes enterprise.
Ahmad Alshwayyat, 21, of the 7700 block of W. 87th Street, in Bridgeview, was charged with two counts of wire fraud.
Both Malkawi and Alshwayyat worked at N&Z Foods in Summit.
Also charged were Khalil Haddad, 35, of the 18000 block of Owens Drive in Orland Park, and Nabil Abdelrahman, 55, of the 10500 block of South Vicky Lane, in Palos Hills.
Both men were charged with one count of theft over $500.
Haddad worked at the LNR Family Store in Maywood. Abdelrahman operated out of Lox Food and Liquor in Bellwood.
Cook County Sheriff’s Police Detectives said they were able to identify a number of stores in the city and suburbs that were giving customers cash back on their LINK cards in violation of USDA rules. Undercover sheriff’s police were able to gain the confidence of store owners and their employees, and began monitoring LINK card transactions starting in May 2010.
Many of the stores were also said to be trafficking in stolen goods, including merchandise taken from the shelves of such stores as Walgreen’s and resold to poor customers at five times the original price.
The LNR Family Store in Bellwood conducted in excess of $40,000 per month in fraudulent LINK card transactions despite being a small corner store with a limited selection, police said.
Police said they found $535 in counterfeit money stacked near a cash register at N&Z foods. In addition, thousands of dollars worth of stolen merchandise was seized from Lox Food and Liquor. The store was also issued citations of $10,000 for violations of the cigarette tax.
Raids of the stores involved in the sting began in December and culminated this month on May 10. Also involved in the yearlong investigation were investigators from the Cook County Department of Revenue and Walgreens.
Bail for Abdelrahman was set at $20,000. Bail for Hadda was set at $15,000. Both are due back in court on May 19. The others charged in the sting are free on bond.