Second smoke shop raided in probe of food-stamp fraud

EVERETT — Another day, another raid on a north Everett smoke shop.

A steady stream of customers to the Tobacco Hut at 1917 Broadway was turned away Wednesday afternoon while Everett police and state social services investigators searched the store for evidence of possible food-stamp fraud.

Store owner Nadeem Ahmed Pasha, 39, was arrested. Police say they found a state food-benefits card belonging to someone else in his wallet.

“We found evidence of more fraud,” Everett police Lt. Jim Duffy said, standing outside the business while investigators inside pored over business receipts, examined inventory and confiscated suspected illegal drugs.

The arrest came one day after the owner of One Smoke and Grocery store at Everett and Colby avenues was arrested for investigation of multiple counts of trafficking in food stamps, stolen property and drugs.

Bail was set at $100,000 Wednesday for Fraz A. “Tony” Mushtaq, 34, who also was ordered to surrender his passport after police discovered he had recently purchased an airline ticket to Pakistan.

The Tobacco Hut came under scrutiny last summer. Everett police were contacted in July 2013 by a someone concerned that their spouse reportedly was buying illegal “spice” drug compounds from the store.

Police twice used a confidential informant to purchase the drugs from the store.

The informant had been a frequent customer. With each purchase, the informant said Pasha removed the drug from beneath the counter and placed in a black plastic bag, court papers said.

An undercover Everett police detective said he went to the store and asked Pasha if he wanted to “buy” his food benefits card. He said Pasha called a toll free number on the back of the card to confirm the balance and then asked for the PIN number.

The card was used to buy $69 worth of food at a Mill Creek grocery and $174 at a Marysville supermarket for a total of $243.

When the detective returned to pick up his card the next day, he was given $121 and his EBT card, according to police.

When police raided the Tobacco Hut on Wednesday, they found a suspect they were investigating from the One Smoke and Grocery store the day before. He was arrested.

Wednesday’s arrests didn’t surprise John Martinis, owner of John’s Sporting Goods nearby.

Many of the people entering the cigarette shop appeared to be drug users, he said.

“The parking lot is the hub of drug activity in Everett,” he said.

His customers often say they are frightened by some of the people they encounter on the sidewalk outside of the tobacco store.

At night, he said, “It’s not scary, it’s dangerous.”

At the same time, Martinis said he is glad that the police department has taken action.

“I’m confident they will clean it up,” he said.

Duffy said the investigation is not over.

Among other things, investigators from the state Department of Social and Health Services will be contacting people whose cards were seized Wednesday. They could lose their benefits and face criminal charges.

Eric Stevick: 424-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com

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