Prosecutors: Chicago grocery store owner committed Link card fraud

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - An undercover police investigation on Chicago’s West Side has led to the closing of a grocery store and charges against its owner.

It’s on the same block where FOX 32's hidden cameras found drugs deals happening in broad daylight.

FOX 32’s Larry Yellen reports on the possible connection between those drug deals, and what police say was happening inside the grocery store.

The Uptown Grocery on Madison near Pulaski was closed on Monday. But earlier this summer, FOX 32’s undercover cameras recorded a steady flow of customers there. We also found a flourishing open air drug market right on the same block.

But what we didn't know was that there was undercover police officers at the grocery store as well.

“We've seen it being rampant, all around the county, and in the city,” said Assistant State’s Attorney David Williams.

Prosecutors say Uptown's owner, 45-year-old Ali-al-Najjar, was selling stolen goods and committing Link card fraud.

The public benefit cards are supposed to be used for necessities like food. But police posing as Link card customers found Najjar would help convert link cards to cash, giving customers some of the dollars with Najjar pocketing the difference.

Businessmen had complained to police repeatedly that what appeared to be Link card fraud was fueling the drug business, by providing drug users with an easy source of cash.

The businessmen told FOX 32 that at the start of each month, when Link card accounts were replenished, there were  long lines at the Uptown Grocery.  Minutes later, those customers were buying drugs.

Prosecutors say that quick turnaround is common.

“They turn that benefit fraud, and that benefit,  into money, and they turn that money into drugs. within five to ten minutes,” Williams said.

Police found more than $40-thousand dollars in cash in Najjar's store.

Now, nearby residents are glad the grocery has been closed.

“There's nobody standing in front of the stores anymore, so I say, it's all in all a good thing,” said Mimi Smith.

“The police presence has been heavier, and it's safer. I'll say that. It’s safer,” added Gayland Massenburg.

Nobody answered at Najjar's Northside apartment Monday. He has been released on bond.

Police say the stolen goods sold inside the convenience store came from retailers including Walgreens, Macy's and J.C. Penney’s.