Imam Al-Idu Al-Gaheem, f/k/a Lawrence Phillips
By Cornelius Frolik
A federal judge on Thursday sentenced Al-Idu Al-Gaheem to one year and one day in prison for his role in a scheme that bilked $3.8 million from the federal food stamp program.
Al-Gaheem, the former owner of two Dayton View businesses and the imam of Masjid At-Taqwa mosque, was the second of four defendants to be sentenced in the case. All four defendants have pleaded guilty.
Al-Gaheem faced as many as four years in prison after he pleaded guilty in August to felony charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, food stamp trafficking and structuring transactions to avoid reporting requirements.
Al-Gaheem, who previously was named Lawrence Phillips, was the owner of Five Pillars Market, 1263 W. Riverview Ave., and Riverview Cell & Cup of Dreams, 512 N. Broadway St.
Imam Al-Gaheem seems to be a US-born convert. The story does not say whether or not he had a previous criminal record.
Al-Gaheem worked and conspired with Abdul Yamini Sr., Abdul Qadir and Omar Yahya to defraud the food-assistance program. The men illegally paid customers 50 cents in cash for every $1 in food stamp benefits they redeemed.
Undercover law enforcement agents caught the defendants illegally trading cash for food stamp benefits and buying and selling products that are ineligible through the program, such as counterfeit clothing and firearms.
Authorities estimate that more than 1,000 transactions took place at Five Pillars Market that involved the illegal exchange of food benefits. The federal government deposited about $3.8 million into bank accounts controlled by Al-Gaheem and others as reimbursement for food benefits redeemed at Five Pillars.
Al-Gaheem repeatedly withdrew large amounts of cash from the bank account, but he always took out sums that were just less than the threshold that requires the filing of federal financial reports.
Al-Gaheem and the other defendants used the money they stole to renovate the Dayton View businesses and pay for personal expenses, such as rent, mortgage and other bills, said assistant U.S. Attorney Dwight Keller.
Given the grungy, ghetto-like appearance of the Five Pillars Market and the Cup of Dreams coffee shop, shown in these photos, I doubt that much of the money was spent on renovations.
Keller urged Judge Timothy S. Black to give Al-Gaheem the maximum prison sentence to deter him from breaking the law in the future and also to send a message that this criminal activity will not be tolerated.
“Mr. Al-Gaheem is arguably the most culpable” defendant in the case, Keller said.
Black sentenced Al-Gaheem to the same prison term that he handed down to Qadir in November.
In addition to prison, Black also ordered Al-Gaheem to be placed on three years of community control after his release.
Al-Gaheem and the other co-defendants in the case will be ordered to pay $3.8 million in restitution to the federal government, even though authorities doubt that they can even come close to paying back the money they stole.
Yamini is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 20. Yahya is scheduled to be sentenced in late February.
Al-Idu Al-Gaheem at Cup of Dreams coffee shop
Let’s start connecting the dots:
★ USDA Inspector General Phyllis K. Fong stated that funds from “fraudulent operations” often aid criminal enterprises, such as drug trafficking and gang activity, according to the Dayton Daily News. Fong testified during a congressional hearing last year that food stamp funds have been laundered and transferred to the Middle East and the horn of Africa.
★ Food stamp fraud “siphons” approximately $330 million from the program nationwide each year, according to USDA statistics quotes in the Dayton Daily News.
Follow the money!
The federal investigators should have tracked down where this money went, after it was withdrawn in cash. How much did Al-Gaheem and the other defendants contribute to the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque where he served as imam? How much did they expend for zakat (mandatory Muslim “charity,” of which a considerable portion goes to fund the jihad)? How much did they transfer overseas via hawala? I realize that hawala is an informal money transfer system that, by design, is difficult to trace. But the investigators should at least have made the effort, rather than simply taking the defendants’ word for how they spent their ill-gotten gains.