Two Helena-West Helena men, who were lead defendants in a scheme to defraud USDA and the SNAP food benefit program, were sentenced in U.S. District Court Thursday. The announcement was made by Patrick Harris, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

Two Helena-West Helena men, who were lead defendants in a scheme to defraud USDA and the SNAP food benefit program, were sentenced in U.S. District Court Thursday. The announcement was made by Patrick Harris, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker sentenced Khalid Alkarsh, 40, to 16 months in federal prison. Bakil Mohamed Alqirsh, 27, received three years probation, with the first 10 months to be spent in home detention.

Together, the pair is jointly responsible for repaying the USDA $107,486.36 in restitution.

On Jan. 24, Alkarsh and Alqirsh entered guilty pleas to conspiracy to defraud the USDA of money from the SNAP benefit program.

SNAP benefits provide economic help for low-income individuals and families to buy food items.

According to court records, Alkarsh, who owned the Stop & Shop convenience store in Helena-West Helena and Alqirsh, the manager and cashier of the store, permitted SNAP recipients to trade their SNAP benefits for ineligible purchase items including beer and cigarettes and cash.

Reportedly, when a SNAP recipient turned in their benefits for money, Alkarsh and Alqirsh paid the recipient approximately 60 percent of the transaction amount. The Stop & Shop operation kept 40 percent.

Originally, Alkarsh and Alqirsh were among 24 people indicted in the scheme. Twenty-two were allegedly SNAP recipients who improperly redeemed their benefits at the Stop and Shop. Charges against two defendants were later dropped. All others eventually pled guilty and have been sentenced or are awaiting sentencing.

The FBI and the USDA conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters is the lead prosecutor in the case.