Man suspected of food stamp fraud could risk store’s closure

EVERETT — As a criminal investigation wraps up into a downtown mini-mart merchant suspected of food stamp fraud, the city has declared his business a chronic nuisance.

That means he must comply with conditions or risk being closed.

Police Chief Kathy Atwood on March 4 mailed letters to four people associated with A One Smoke &Grocery, 2625 Colby Avenue, warning of possible civil sanctions and criminal charges. The business was raided Feb. 25 after a 17-month investigation.

Fraz A. “Tony” Mushtaq, 34, the owner of the store at Everett and Colby avenues, is suspected of paying people cents on the dollar for access to their state food benefits cards. He also is under investigation for allegedly buying and selling merchandise shoplifted from area stores, as well as money laundering and selling an illegal form of synthetic marijuana known as “spice.”

Detectives are working with prosecutors and are completing the investigation, Everett police officer Aaron Snell said. No decision has been made about filing charges in federal court or in Snohomish County, he said.

Atwood’s letter makes reference to four separate police reports documenting 19 instances in which police believe the business was in possession of stolen property. The allegations cover a period between March 2013 to February 2014.

Police are planning to meet with the business owner next week to explain the letter and try to iron out conditions that must be followed for a year. Violating the civil orders could land the owner in front of a hearing examiner who has the authority to close the business.

The goal of meeting with people who receive chronic-nuisance letters is to create a plan for them to follow, Everett police Sgt. Bruce Bosman said.

“It’s not just the police department saying, ‘This won’t happen,’ ” he said. “It’s supposed to be two-way: ‘What are you going to do and what steps are you going to put in place so this doesn’t happen again?’ “

The city used the chronic-nuisance ordinance last year to work out conditions with the owner of the Hillbilly Hotties bikini-barista stand, including an agreement that she wouldn’t hire people who have criminal history and that employees who break the rules would be fired.

Everett’s ordinance on chronic-nuisance properties was approved by the City Council in 2008 and first applied in 2012. It was last updated in July 2013. The ordinance is aimed at properties that create an unusual number of public complaints, 911 calls and responses from police and code-enforcement officers.

The chronic-nuisance ordinance covers activities such as drug trafficking, prostitution, thefts, assaults and violations related to alcohol, weapons, noise and animals. Nuisance properties are those that interfere with the health and safety of neighborhoods. The ordinance has been applied about two dozen times in the past two years. Past targets have included a number of low-rent motels on Broadway and suspected drug houses, public records show.

Mushtaq and his brother, Ayaz Ahmed, 37, both of Everett, were arrested last month and booked into the Snohomish County Jail after the raid.

The next day, police and social service investigators searched the Tobacco Hut at 1917 Broadway for evidence of possible food-stamp fraud. Its owner also was arrested. The city has not sent him a chronic nuisance letter because the business didn’t meet the criteria under the ordinance, Bosman said.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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