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Crime Vineland couple in food stamp case say they don't have to pay back money

22:45  14 january  2020
22:45  14 january  2020 Source:   thedailyjournal.com

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a group of people standing around a table: Mustafa Ozturk (left) and his wife Rahime leave a hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court on Monday. The Vineland residents were indicted last year in a food stamp fraud case. Behind them are a Turkish language interpreter for Rahime Ozturk and attorney Mark Rinkus (right), who represents the husband.© Joseph P. Smith/The Daily Journal Mustafa Ozturk (left) and his wife Rahime leave a hearing in Cumberland County Superior Court on Monday. The Vineland residents were indicted last year in a food stamp fraud case. Behind them are a Turkish language interpreter for Rahime Ozturk and attorney Mark Rinkus (right), who represents the husband.

BRIDGETON – A Vineland couple charged with taking thousands of dollars in an alleged food stamp scam are rejecting a plea deal, claiming a recent bankruptcy means they don't have to pay back the money.

The couple, Mustafa Ozturk, 35, and Rahime Ozturk, 38, fraudulently received $26,128 in food stamps over several years while concealing that they owned gas stations in two states from the Cumberland County Division of Social Services, court records state.

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They both appeared in Cumberland County Superior Court on Monday.

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The couple, who live on South East Boulevard, have separate attorneys.. They were arraigned in November on a 16-count indictment alleging theft, conspiracy, and falsifying records.

At Monday’s hearing before Judge Robert Malestein, county Assistant Prosecutor Shari-Ann Sasu said the state has offered the couple plea deals that would recommend probation instead of prison.

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However, she said, the defendants would be required to pay back the county and the Ozturks are refusing.

The Ozturks filed in federal Bankruptcy Court in October 2018 for Chapter 13 protection. The Division of Social Services already had completed its investigation by that time.

The division contacted the Prosecutor’s Office in February 2018 to report suspected Medicaid fraud, according to court records.

“I believe Mr. Ozturk’s of the position that, if he’s in bankruptcy, he shouldn’t have to pay anything back,” Sasu said. “So, the sticking point really is the money and restitution. I’m thinking a restitution hearing is coming at some point.”

Sasu told the court that a bankruptcy decision has no affect on proceedings in a criminal case.

According to court records, the Ozturks were arrested in January 2019.

Probable cause affidavits state the defendants “concealed businesses and income to be eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”

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Division Investigator Carmen Amberths stated that “tax returns, bank statements, checks, and CLEAR Report” showed the defendants owned several gas stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The indictment states the SNAP benefits were issued from Oct. 17, 2014 through Sept. 15, 2017. The New Jersey Office of Administrative Law found the couple was ineligible, according to the affidavit.

State Deputy Public Defender Kim Schultz, representing Mustafa Ozturk, said the defense still needs to conduct a lot of discovery in the case and to meet with the division investigator.

Attorney Mark Rinkus is representing Rahime Ozturk.

Malestein set the next hearing for March 9.

The Social Services division has not responded to previous requests for information about the investigation.

Joe Smith is a Philly native transplanted to South Jersey more than 30 years ago. He is a former editor and current senior staff writer at The Daily Journal in Vineland. Have a news tip? Reach out at (856) 563-5252 or jsmith@thedailyjournal.com or follow me on Twitter, @jpsmith-dj. Help support local journalism with a subscription to The Daily Journal.

This article originally appeared on Vineland Daily Journal: Vineland couple in food stamp case say they don't have to pay back money

Lawsuit filed over Trump administration's limits on food stamps .
The final rule, which was announced in December 2019, could result in an estimated 688,000 individuals potentially losing their SNAP benefits.New York State Attorney General Letitia James and District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine announced Thursday they are leading the coalition, arguing that the "rule directly undermines Congress' intent for SNAP, and that the USDA violated the federal rulemaking process," according to a press release.

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