AUBURN — The trial of a Lewiston couple accused of stealing thousands of dollars in federal housing money began Tuesday as prosecutors sought to show the couple lied about their income and assets.

Roda Abdi, 45, and Ali-Nassir Ahmed, 53, are charged with theft by deception, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Abdi also is charged with attempted theft by deception, a Class D misdemeanor punishable by up to 364 days in jail.

The charges stem from a 2010 raid by federal agents on 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 (WIC) benefits.

Assistant Attorney General Leanne Robbin said the couple had falsely taken nearly $60,000 in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidies over six years for which they weren’t eligible. Most of that period predates the indictment, which spans 2006 through 2008, during which the couple wrongly took roughly $20,000, she said.

Robbin said Abdi and her husband, Ahmed, lived in a federally subsidized apartment “while they owned and operated a profitable businesses in Lewiston,” all the time buying buildings with cash.

The couple started defrauding the government in 2002, when they rented an apartment at 149 Bartlett St., Robbin said.


Just two months before moving into the apartment, Abdi, owner of the 199 Bartlett St. store, had applied to the food stamp service to allow customers to use SNAP benefits at her store, Robbin said in her opening statement in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

She pegged her store’s gross annual receipts at $119,000, Robbin said. Abdi failed to disclose her store’s income in her application to the management company that rented the so-called Section 8 apartments for the building’s owner and certified the renters’ eligibility for federal subsidies, Robbin said. The couple claimed they had no income, according to Robbin.

In addition to selling items for SNAP benefits, she also was authorized to take WIC benefits, Robbin said.

In 2004, the couple formed limited liability corporations, one for the store and one for the building that housed the store, which had three apartments above it. The couple bought the store that year, paying the owner $10,000 in cash, Robbin said. By the end of 2005, they had paid the remainder of the $165,000 in cash, Robbin said.

In a twist, one of the tenants in an apartment over the store was eligible for federal housing subsidies at the same time that Abdi and Ahmed were living in a federally subsidized apartment elsewhere on Bartlett Street, according to Robbin.

None of the transactions involving the store, its building and apartments found their way into documents Abdi and Ahmed provided to the managers of the subsidized apartment they were renting, Robbin said.


On the same day that Ahmed purchased the building, he signed a certified document that said he had no income, Robbin said.

At that time, Abdi claimed she had an income of $120 a week working at the market as a part-time employee when, in fact, she co-owned the store, Robbin said.

When Abdi and Ahmed claimed on forms that they had no assets, $81,000 had been deposited in their bank accounts that year, Robbin said.

The next year, Ahmed withdrew more than $139,000 from the store’s accounts, but claimed he earned no income, Robbin said. The couple paid $122,000 to cover credit card spending that year, she said. Abdi, meanwhile, claimed she only earned $6,240 annually as a part-time employee at the store.

A year later, in 2006, Ahmed continued to claim he earned no income; Abdi claimed she earned $13,000 a year as a store employee, Robbin said.

In 2007, Ahmed again said he earned no income; Abdi claimed a diminished $7,800 annual income, Robbin said.


In January 2008, Ahmed notified the management company that he was moving out of 149 Bartlett St. He ended up moving later that year into an Ash Street apartment building that he and Abdi bought with cash.

Bruce Merrill, an attorney representing Abdi, said Tuesday that most of the state’s presentation was “fluff window dressing” because the grand jury indictment handed up charging the couple dates back only to July 2006. What happened before that is irrelevant, Merrill said. Much of the state’s evidence will be hearsay whose origins haven’t been established in fact.

Merrill said that households in 2005 were eligible for federal housing subsidies even if they earned as much as $22,300. He also said that the incomes of Abdi and Ahmed are not the same as the gross receipts of the A & R Halal Market. Expenses can reduce net income to “something significantly less than that figure,” he said.

A cultural misunderstanding may have occurred when the couple claimed not to have assets, Merrill said.

Peter Rodway, Ahmed’s attorney, said that in the thousands of pages of the shared state’s documents, the defense attorneys have “not seen one shred of evidence that during the period of the indictment that anybody paid any money on behalf of our clients.”

The state has to prove that misrepresentations on the part of the defendants caused HUD to pay money on behalf of Abdi and Ahmed and prosecutors won’t be able to do that beyond a reasonable doubt, Rodway said.

Most of Tuesday’s testimony was given by Tina Pelletier, a witness for the prosecution who confirmed Robbin’s claims from her opening statements about rental documents signed by Abdi and Ahmed that reflected their income and assets, along with the amount of their federal housing subsidies from 2002 to 2008.

The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

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