Ali Ratib Daham, who ran the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue in Portland, and his brother Abdulkareem Daham, who worked at the store, were sent to prison for trading food stamp benefits for cash.

Two brothers from Westbrook who defrauded food stamp programs at a Portland market they ran were sentenced to prison Monday and ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution.

In what authorities believe is the largest such case in Maine, Ali Ratib Daham, 41, was given three years in prison. Authorities said he was the mastermind of the scheme in which customers who received benefits from one or both of two federal nutrition programs – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Women, Infants and Children program, or WIC – could exchange their benefit slips, at a discount, for cash. That meant the beneficiaries could use aid from the programs without restrictions – they could buy items not covered by the program, or use the money to pay off accounts at Daham’s Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue. Both uses are barred under federal rules.

Ali Daham, meanwhile, deposited the slips with his market’s accounts, redeeming the benefits without selling food to his customers. Authorities said the two defrauded the SNAP and WIC programs of $1.4 million before they were stopped.

Ali Daham’s brother, Abdulkareem Daham, 22, was charged with conspiracy in the scheme, which began shortly after the market opened in 2011. He was found guilty in January, and on Monday was sentenced to two years in prison and, along with his brother, is on the hook for restitution in the case.

The family emigrated to the U.S. after the upheaval in Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003. Ali Daham became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2013.

But Abdulkareem Daham is not a citizen and will likely face deportation after he serves his time at a federal prison. Federal Judge D. Brock Hornby agreed to his request to ask authorities to send him to a prison in Berlin, New Hampshire, the federal prison closest to Maine, so his family could visit.

His lawyer, Peter Rodway, had asked Hornby to sentence his client to six months in prison. A lighter sentence would make it easier for Abdulkareem Daham to fight deportation in a couple of years, Rodway said after the hearing.

Ali Daham was told to report to prison in mid-July. Federal authorities will determine where he serves his sentence.

Ali Daham had been allowed to remain free while he awaited sentencing after he posted bail and then pleaded guilty in the case in November. Abdulkareem Daham was initially freed after his arrest, but was jailed in January after authorities said he violated the conditions of his bail by smoking marijuana and failing to attend substance abuse counseling.

The sentences were below federal guidelines in both cases. Hornby said he deviated from those guidelines for Abdulkareen Daham because of his age. And the judge said he was struck by the Iraqi immigrant community’s support for Ali Daham – more than 50 immigrants turned out to support him at the sentencing – and that he felt the man was truly remorseful for his crime.

Many of his fellow immigrants said Ali Daham helped them with housing and finding work in America. They said they believed he was seeking to help others through his crime, not line his own pockets.

Ali Daham said as much when he spoke to Hornby, saying through an interpreter that he loves America and felt welcomed in Maine. He asked for a lighter sentence so he would be able to help care for his parents, wife and children.

In handing down the sentence, Hornby referred to the struggles of Ali Daham and his family in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled as president. As Sunni Muslims, the family was persecuted by Shiite Muslims, Ali Daham said. He said he was kidnapped and tortured by his captors until a wealthy uncle paid a $500,000 ransom to free him.

Hornby said he felt that if Daham could deal with that, he could survive a three-year sentence and a huge debt for restitution.

“There are no winners in a case like this,” Hornby said. “In sentencing two brothers, I recognize I am creating great pain for this family … and for the immigrant community.”

But, the judge said, the brothers’ actions not only undermined trust in government programs, but could also lead to “prejudice against immigrants.”

Rodway, Abdulkareem Daham’s lawyer, said he expected to appeal both his client’s conviction and his sentence.

Walter McKee, Ali Daham’s lawyer, said no decision had been made on an appeal.

The prosecutor in both cases, James Chapman, said he was pleased with both sentences, even though the brothers will serve less time than he sought. Chapman noted that the order for restitution payments will take the brothers years to pay off.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]

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