LOCKPORT – A husband and wife who own a small store in Niagara Falls pleaded guilty Friday to illegally purchasing food stamps from their customers and handling untaxed cigars.
Shamsher Singh, 60, and Jasbir F. Kaur, 53, pleaded guilty to misuse of food stamps, a felony, and possession of untaxed tobacco products, a misdemeanor.
State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. could send each to prison for as long as four years when they return to court Oct. 16.
For Singh, who is not a U.S. citizen, the possibility exists that he could be deported back to India as a result of his conviction. Kloch said if that turns out to be so, he will give Singh the option of withdrawing his guilty plea. Kaur is a U.S. citizen and doesn’t run that risk.
The defendants, who own the Indian General Store, 1611 Pine Ave., also will have to pay $2,395 each to the state Tax Department over the tobacco violation.
Assistant District Attorney Joel M. Grundy said authorities seized $183,000 worth of cash and personal property when they executed a search warrant at the couple’s Pine Avenue home.
Grundy said some of the money confiscated came from a worker’s compensation claim that had nothing to do with the food stamp sales. Singh’s attorney, Mark D. Grossman, said about $42,000 is to be returned to the couple because of that.
Grundy said the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which is handling the forfeiture aspect of the case, also will return much of the personal property to the couple after the sentencing.
Grundy said the couple bought food stamps from customers for about 50 cents on the dollar. That gave the customers cash and allowed the store owners to redeem the food stamps with the government at face value.
The food stamp dealings lasted from January 2010 to January 2013, Grundy said. Also, on Jan. 22, 2013, the store had 1,062 cigars whose packages bore no state tax stamp.
Grundy said a condition of the pre-indictment plea deal was for Singh and Kaur to cooperate with authorities in investigating the people they were doing business with.
Grundy was filling in for colleague John P. Granchelli, who worked on the case along with investigators from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Stamp Inspector General and the Niagara Falls Police Department.
The probe targeted sales of benefits by clients as well as store owners allowing illegal purchases with food stamps, such as beer and cigarettes.
Kaur’s lawyer, James J. Faso Jr., said other charges that the couple faces in Niagara Falls City Court will be dismissed as part of the plea agreement. Grossman said those cases pertain to sales tax and cigarette tax issues.