Chicago Convenience Store Owner Charged Following CCROC Investigations
Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez announced the results and charges made in line with the investigation initiated by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Regional Organized Crime Task Force (CCROC) against a Chicago convenience store owner who engaged in an ongoing public aid fraud, which involved the Illinois LINK Card program. The store owner participated in an illegal fencing operation of reselling stolen merchandise, as well as abused the Illinois LINK Card program.
Ali Al Najjar, 45, has been charged with two counts of Continuing Financial Criminal Enterprise – a Class 1 Felony, one count of Money Laundering – a Class 2 Felony, and one count of Wire Fraud – a Class 3 Felony. The defendant’s business named Uptown Grocery, located at 4024 W. Madison Street on the West Side of Chicago has been identified as the key target for investigation of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Regional Organized Crime Task Force.
During the course of the investigation, it was reported that there had been six occasions between June of 2015 and September of 2015, in which an undercover officer went to Uptown Grocery and made a deal with the defendant by selling “stolen” merchandise in exchange of cash, as a part of their ongoing investigation. Purported “stolen” goods consist of perfumes, purses, and on some occasions – unopened, over-the-counter medicines. It was reported that throughout the transactions, the defendant was fully aware that the merchandise being traded were stolen and had also actively engaged in conversations with the undercover cop regarding the securing and selling of the stolen items. It was further noted that the undercover agent was never issued and has never issued any receipt for their transactions – even delivering the products in regular plastic bags.
Apart from becoming involved in a fencing operation, the defendant was also found to be abusing the Illinois LINK Card program, which was established during the long-term investigation when the undercover agent used an Illinois LINK Card on three different occasions to obtain cashback in exchange for debiting food stamp benefits included in the card.
The Illinois Link card is a regular card that functions much like a debit card. It allows recipients of the Link card to purchase specifically approved items, where transactions are processed electronically, and payments are directly wired to the participating store’s bank account. The Illinois Link Card consists of different government assistance programs that provide several benefits to the program’s recipients, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – provides food stamps for recipients, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – provides temporary financial assistance to eligible recipients, and the Aid to the Aged, Blind, or Disabled – provides cash assistance to eligible participants.
Authorities conducted a raid on the defendant’s Uptown Grocery and have subsequently apprehended the defendant on October 15, 2015. Cook County Circuit Court Judge Maria Kuriakos-Ciesil released the defendant held on a $10,000 personal recognizance bond on October 16, 2015, during a bond hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building in Chicago. The defendant is sent to have his next court date on November 6, 2015.
The investigation of the case was initiated by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Regional Organized Crime Task Force – a first-of-its-kind task force, founded in 2010, that is a private-public partnership dedicated to combating criminal enterprises, specifically targeting organized retail theft and fencing within the Chicago metropolitan area. The National Retail Federation estimates that businesses in the United States lose up to approximately $30 billion each year, as they are victimized by organized retail crime. As such, several private sectors and law enforcement agencies have partnered to share their expertise in investigative skills to, ultimately, eradicate such as criminal enterprises.
The CCROC accomplished the investigation on the fraudulent scheme in partnership with the Chicago Police Department, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Moreover, the CCROC was able to achieve satisfactory results in the investigation with the collaborative efforts of several public sector retailers, including CVS, J C Penney, Macy’s, Sephora, and Walgreen’s.
With the provided criminal documents containing allegations that are not evidence of guilt, the public is reminded that the defendant shall be presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Updated: October 9, 2020