PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - The former owner of a market in Portland pleads guilty in one the largest food stamp fraud cases ever in Maine.

Ali Daham admitted defrauding the government out of 1.4 million dollars. The case involves funds from SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

Today he entered guilty pleas to three charges, conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering and theft of government funds.

Not only did Daham steal welfare benefits through his store, he also illegally received them for him and his family.

Daham had nothing to say as he entered federal court to admit his guilt. But his attorney did speak on his behalf.

“He acknowledged he made mistakes all along. Ali is a good person, a decent person, a hard working person. But he acknowledged he did what the government said he did”, said attorney Walt McKee.

What the government says he did was charge his customers SNAP accounts. But instead of purchasing items from the store they would get lesser amounts of cash instead.

“He would give them cash out of his pocket or the cash register and then redeem the full amount of the SNAP benefits through the US Department of Agriculture”, said Assistant US Attorney Jim Chapman.

Investigators say this went on for nearly 5 years. At the time Daham ran the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue, while his brother worked the cash register. The shop has since changed owners.

Investigators say they began looking into Daham because the small store was processing nearly as many SNAP transactions as the larger Hannaford stores. They say it became clear he was illegally pocketing the money and allowing customers to misuse funds intended for poor families.

“He’s facilitating the fraud by allowing customers to redeem these benefits designed to put food in children’s mouths so they could get cash instead and spend it on whatever they chose to spend it on. So this is a very important case”, said Chapman.

Daham faces up to 35 years in prison for all three charges combined. He’ll be ordered to pay 1 point 4 million dollars in restitution and could face fines of 1 million dollars. He is expected to sentenced in Spring.