Iraqi refugee to be deported for defrauding welfare programs

By John Agar |
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on July 14, 2015 at 3:04 PM, updated July 14, 2015 at 3:13 PM

Federal prosecutors say a Grand Rapids couple abused the welfare system.
File photo

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – An Iraqi man's U.S. citizenship was revoked after he was sentenced to prison Tuesday, July 14, for defrauding federal welfare programs.

Mohamad Dalalli, 41, was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison followed by three years on supervised release.

He and his wife, Rami Alame, from 2006 to 2011 took $126,000 in government assistance despite ownership of a Grand Rapids grocery store and having cash in bank accounts in Lebanon, federal prosecutors say.

Dalalli pleaded guilty to five felonies for defrauding the government, stealing public money and unlawfully obtaining U.S. naturalization. His plea came after two witnesses testified at his January trial in U.S. District Court.

Dalalli sought to withdraw his plea, a request denied shortly before he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.

Alame awaits sentencing Aug. 31 for conversion of government funds.

The government said the couple received benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Women, Infants, and Children, the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, Medicaid benefits and housing assistance.

While accepting the benefits, Dalalli in 2010 sold $6,800 in jewelry and bought a grocery store, Middle Eastern Market, with $30,000 down and another $20,000 due in three years.

About one year after he brought the store, it burned down in an arson fire. During the course of the fire investigation, Dalalli revealed information about having the bank accounts in Lebanon.

Defense attorney Gary Springstead said much of the government assistance covered health-care expenses. He said Dalalli stopped accepting some benefits once he began to make money. His client maintains his innocence.

He took the plea "in part, in the hope, misguided though it may be, that the government would relent in its prosecution of his wife, so that at least one of them would not be incarcerated and therefore able to care for their children," Springstead wrote.

He said there was little reason to incarcerate Dalalli, who is now subject to removal from the U.S. He said immigration officials would likely lock him up once the prison sentence ends.

In a hand-written letter to the judge, Dalalli blamed his attorney for his guilty plea and said that a translation error resulting in he and his wife violating bond conditions.

He said the couple arrived in Grand Rapids with their 1-year-old on July 12, 2005. A local church provided them with an apartment in Wyoming and helped them apply for government benefits.

In 2012, he said, he borrowed money from his sister-in-law, sold jewelry and his car and bought the inventory of the convenience store. He said he stopped government assistance, but his wife continued to receive benefits because they separated.

His inventory was destroyed by fire. He had no insurance.

In the letter to the judge, Dalalli wrote: "Please speak with me face to face. I feel you will see what is going on and know what they are doing to my wife, my children and to me is wrong."