Food Stamp Fraud Investigation
Indio Businessman Haki Dervishi Arrested
Federal agents have arrested Haki Dervishi, and have searched his home and business. The Office of the Inspector General is investigating possible food stamp fraud at the One Stop Shoppe in Indio.
"We were here at 8 o'clock and they were here already," said Tony Gowda, a vender for One Stop Shoppe.
FBI and US Department of Agriculture agents spent the day going in and out of One Stop Shoppe, now closed for business.
It was a similar scene at Dervishi's house in Palm Springs.
Edward Hofmann, a neighbor, says, "When I came out this morning looking for the Desert Water Agency that is when I saw all those cars, saw the police officers and the FBI agent."
Neighbors said police arrived at about 10:00pm Wednesday. Neighbors noticed something was wrong on Thursday when Dervishi's garage door lights were still on, something neighbors say are always turned off. That's probably because Dervishi didn't get the chance. The FBI arrested him and took him into custody.
The raids capped off an 11 month-long undercover investigation which revealed Dervishi used his store to illegally traffic food stamps, officials said.
Steven Merrill, special assistant U.S. attorney, says, "They did 7 undercover operations where an undercover agent went in posing as a person who was on food stamps and they were able to obtain cash for their benefits."
The search warrant affidavit accuses Dervishi of defrauding the government of about $3.5 million between January 2010 and September 2012.
"It's a significant crime; the government takes these types of crimes very seriously. The program is designed to help those who don't have the basic necessities like food and so when you are stealing that money the government does take it very seriously," says Merrill.
Dervishi's shop redeemed between $350,000 and $400,000 of food stamps a month, according to Merrill. A similar business in Indio only redeemed about $400 worth.
"So you can see the astronomical difference in the amount being redeemed as to how much fraud is going on, " says Merrill.
This isn't Dervishi's first time in the spotlight, not for criminal activity, but for his humanitarian work.
Jason Olms, who knows Dervishi, says, "Haki Dervishi as far as I know, is one of the most stand up guys in the community."
James Easton, who also knows Dervishi, says, "Haki takes care of all of the homeless people. He takes care of different people in this community and I know him as a stand up guy too. He is just awesome guy."
Earlier this year, he talked with us about the homeless camp behind his business. You may remember back in February that Dervishi housed a tent city for homeless people on the property of the One Stop Shoppe. The Bureau of Indian Affairs built a fence around the property to shut down the homeless camp in May. At the time, people saw him as a community hero but, at the same time, federal agents say he stole from the government.
"We started as a gas station as we evolved to where we are right now," said Dervishi in February.
If he is found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
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