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Waterbury grocery store employee admits he accepted food stamps for cigarettes, bongs

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WATERBURY — A Waterbury grocery store worker has admitted in federal court that he unlawfully allowed customers to exchange food stamps for cigarettes, bongs, hookahs and glass smoking pipes. The store also is said to have charged a premium for the items.

Prosecutors say 40-year-old Raul Monarca-Gonzalez pleaded guilty Monday to unlawful use of food stamp benefits and conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud.

Authorities say he and others at WB Trade Fair Supermarket in Waterbury let customers redeem food stamps for cash and ineligible items between 2014 and this year.

Prosecutors say the store redeemed $3.2 million in benefits over 18 months, but should’ve only been able to redeem up to $240,000 annually.

Monarca-Gonzalez’s attorney says his client understands little English and did what his boss told him, never receiving a dime from the transactions. Two other men, Tallat Mahmood, 63, and Thair Shahzad, 32, were charged as well.

Monarca-Gonzalez faces up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. He will be sentenced on March 1.

Here is an explanation of what food stamps, which utilize federal dollars to subsidize low-income households, can be used for:

SNAP recipients purchase eligible food items at retail food stores through the use of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, and SNAP benefits may be accepted by authorized retailers only in exchange for eligible items.

Items such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, paper goods and soaps are not eligible for purchase with food stamp benefits, and it is a violation of the rules and regulations governing the food stamp program to allow benefits to be used to purchase ineligible items.

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