Riadh “Robert” Al Katy

The owner of the Marion Express Mart on N.C. 226 South has been indicted on charges related to food stamp fraud following a six-month investigation by numerous agencies.

Riadh “Robert” Al Katy, 64, of Bakers Point, Hickory, was arrested Tuesday and charged with six counts of access to government computer to defraud, six counts of buy, sell and distribute food stamps, and one count of food stamp fraud. He is currently in custody at the McDowell County Law Enforcement Center under a $330,000 bond.

According to Lt. Scott Spratt of the Marion Police Department, Katy allegedly accepted Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards for non-food items including alcohol, tobacco and cash payouts. He said numerous people on repeat occasions used their cards at the store to purchase items other than food, which is the purpose of the EBT card.

On Tuesday, officers with the Marion Police Department, McDowell County Sheriff’s Office, N.C. State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), Department of Social Services (DSS) employees, agents with the Office of Inspector General and representatives with the N.C. Financial Crimes Initiative served a search warrant at the Marion Express Mart on N.C. 226 South in Marion.

“Detective Eric Rodriguez headed up the investigation and he did an excellent job with it. During the search warrant, they seized numerous things such as documents, money and surveillance videos,” Spratt said. “There is potential for charges or repercussions for those who used their EBT card (unlawfully) at the store.”

One indictment states that, “The defendant illegally accepted EBT card payments for non-food items and paid out cash for the electronic food and nutrition benefits contained on the EBT cards. The amount fraudulently obtained was greater than $400.”

Another indictment states, “The defendant paid out cash for electronic food and nutrition benefits and then debited an EBT card at an amount higher than the amount paid in cash thereby obtaining an illegal profit.”

Spratt said it is unknown on how long this had been going on, but agencies have been investigating the complaints of food stamp fraud against Katy for about six months.

“DSS began the investigation after getting word of what was happening at the store. His register is tied in with his video,” Spratt told The McDowell News. “This problem is everywhere. I think anybody would agree that the program is set up for those who need it, and I really believe in the program to be used for what it is intended for, but when it’s abused and misused and made for profit, every taxpaying citizen is paying for it.”

Katy is being represented by attorney Hill Evans, who declined to comment Wednesday. Spratt said the local DA’s office in conjunction with Roger Wiles, financial prosecutor for the Western Region of North Carolina, will be handling the case in court.

The charges are considered Class H, I, and F felonies which can bring prison sentences up to 41 months for each conviction. Katy’s criminal record yielded only minor traffic violations.

Spratt said more charges against Katy are pending further investigation.

The Marion Express Mart was still open on Wednesday. Katy’s first court date is set for June 23 at 10 a.m. in McDowell County Superior Court.