Guilty verdict for Lewiston couple in fraud trial

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AUBURN — A Lewiston couple was found guilty Friday of bilking the federal government out of tens of thousands of dollars in housing money at the same time they were buying downtown properties with cash.

Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford signed an 11½-page verdict Friday in Androscoggin County Superior Court, convicting Roda Abdi, 45, and her husband, Ali-Nassir Ahmed, 53, of felony theft by deception.

They were charged with taking roughly $20,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidies from 2006 to 2008, according to Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin, who prosecuted the case.

The convictions are punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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On a second misdemeanor charge of theft by deception against Abdi, Clifford found her not guilty, writing that some of her actions were “questionable” but were not proven illegal beyond a reasonable doubt.

All of the charges stem from a 2010 raid by federal agents on the couple’s business, the A&R Halal Market at 199 Bartlett St. in Lewiston.

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement converged on the store with a warrant on a tip about possible violations of the Maine Women, Infants and Children nutrition program benefits.

Instead, investigators found that Abdi and Ahmed misrepresented their income and assets in an effort to get federal housing money to help pay their rent, the prosecution said during the December 2013 trial.

In his verdict, Clifford highlighted Abdi and Ahmed’s filing of federal forms requesting aid. They cited little or no income. Abdi listed herself as a salaried employee at the store. Yet, she owned the store that grossed more than $840,000 annually at its height.

They also bought properties.

Between March 2004 and December 2005, Abdi and Ahmed bought apartment buildings at 210 Ash St. and at 199 and 215 Bartlett St. Together, the three properties cost more than $300,000 and were paid for with cash, Justice Clifford said in the written verdict.

Clifford made few verbal statements during Friday’s announcement.

Abdi and Ahmed sat quietly, hiding their faces as copies of the verdict were distributed. They listened to a live translation of the proceedings.

The Sun Journal was unable to contact lawyers for either Abdi or Ahmed following the announcement.

Robbin said she was pleased with the verdict.

“It’s always been our view that people who are purchasing multi-unit apartment buildings in cash don’t deserve federal housing assistance,” Robbin said. “Their concealing their assets was a felony theft.”

People shouldn’t lie to get public benefits, she said. “It deprives people who need the money. The public sees when people are getting benefits they shouldn’t be getting and it creates questions about the program. We need to worry about the integrity of these programs.”

Attorneys for Abdi and Ahmed will be given three weeks to submit additional findings to the court resulting from the verdict.

A sentencing in the case will follow.

dhartill@sunjournal.com

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