11/11/13 9:00am
11/11/2013 9:00 AM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | About 150 people lined up beside the Peconic riverfront Friday afternoon to receive groceries from Lighthouse Mission.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | About 150 people lined up beside the Peconic riverfront Friday afternoon to receive groceries from Lighthouse Mission.

Close to 150 hungry neighbors lined up by the Peconic riverfront in downtown Riverhead Friday afternoon, waiting on line in the cold to pick up grocery items compliments of Lighthouse Mission.

The mission is one of many food pantries serving the North Fork to see an influx of people in need – which they say is in response to recent cuts to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly know as food stamps.

“There’s quite a bit of need out here,” said Pastor James Ryan, president of the mission, while distributing goods Friday. “I was speaking with a gentleman just a second ago about the cuts [to benefits.] Everybody is a bit fearful of it.”

To help support families during a sluggish economy, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 increased SNAP benefits by 13.6 percent per month, but the increase has since expired.

Starting Nov. 1., a household of four will now receive approximately $36 less each month, forcing families to manage already strained budgets – with many turning to local pantries.

“It means less food for me and my son,” said a woman who asked not to be named while she picked up items Friday. “The money is running out sooner than later. You’ve got to really budget now.”

She said her 7-year-old’s favorite foods – like hamburgers and hot dogs – will probably not be making it to the dinner table this month, and added it will be harder to get him vegetables to “help keep him healthy.”

Another woman, who introduced herself as Sheryl, said she currently receives about $80 a month in SNAP benefits. The mother of three said the additional cuts could leave her family hungry.

“We are suffering. For a family of four, that lasts only a week,” she said. “I would like to see the laws change to find out who really needs [the benefit] and who doesn’t.”

The mission started its Riverhead outreach program about two and half years ago and volunteers typically serve between 70 and 90 people on any given Friday. This particular Friday, the first since the cuts went into effect Nov. 1., lines were significantly longer.

Carolyn Gumbs, office manager at LI Council of Churches in Riverhead, said the church pantry has seen about a 10 percent increase in recipients so far this month.

“We’re seeing the increase because were seeing people who haven’t been here in years – some of the families don’t even like the idea of coming here,” she said.

“We’re going to need more of everything that we have in order to help supply the demand,” Ms. Gumbs said. “That is added pressure to the local pantries.”

For the month of September, the pantry helped 272 households by preparing nearly 6,000 meals. She said with the current influx, it’s hard to tell what the month of November will bring.

With the increased demand, “we have people going out to spend money to stock the [pantry] shelves,” said Shirley Coverdale of Open Arms Care Center at First Baptist Church in Riverhead. “We have an active campaign going on now for people to bring in food, as I imagine many churches do. “

Each of the pantries said the influx of patrons mixed with the upcoming holiday season leaves them in need of donations now more than ever.

“We are going to need vegetables, soup, peanut butter and jelly, canned meats, pasta, juices, cereals — were going to need all of that in order to help,” Ms. Gumbs said.

cmiller@timesreview.com

07/10/13 8:00am
07/10/2013 8:00 AM
ATTORNEY GENERAL COURTESY |  Prabha Rani and federal agents in a screen grab from video supplied by the attorney general’s office.

ATTORNEY GENERAL COURTESY | Prabha Rani and federal agents in a screen grab from video supplied by the attorney general’s office last month.

One half of the Riverhead couple charged with orchestrating a scheme to steal more than $670,000 from a government food and nutrition program has been released from Suffolk County jail, according to the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office.

On Monday, Prabha Rani, 58, posted $250,000 cash bail, police said. Her husband, Ravinder Parkash, 59, remains in custody.

ATTORNEY GENERAL COURTESY | Ravinder Parkash, 59, remains in custody.

On June 27, the pair was arrested following a police raid of the Gulf gas station they own on East Main Street in Riverhead.

Mr. Parkash faces felony grand larceny and money laundering and is being held on $500,000 cash bail.

Ms. Rani was arrested on lesser theft charges.

The alleged plot involved illegally trading cash for hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, the attorney general said.

Almost two dozen other Suffolk County residents, including 17 from Riverhead Town, were also arrested as part of a 60-count grand jury indictment unsealed June 27 after an 18-month investigation, said state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Both are due back in state Supreme Court on Sept. 10.

cmurray@timesreview.com

06/27/13 1:00pm
ATTORNEY GENERAL COURTESY | Screen grab from video supplied by the attorney genera's office.

ATTORNEY GENERAL COURTESY | Screen grab from video supplied by the attorney general’s office.

The owners of a Gulf gas station in downtown Riverhead were arrested Thursday morning for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to steal more than $670,000 from a government food and nutrition program, the New York State attorney general announced.

Ravinder Parkash

Ravinder Parkash

Almost two dozen other Suffolk County residents, including 17 from Riverhead Town, were also arrested as part of a 60-count grand jury indictment unsealed Thursday after an 18-month investigation, said state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Police raided the East Main Street gas station Thursday morning, arresting owner Ravinder Parkash, 59, for felony grand larceny and money laundering, state officials said.

Mr. Parkash was held on $500,000 cash bail at an arraignment Thursday afternoon at Suffolk County criminal court — state prosecutors used the court space, even though the defendants are not being charged by county authorities — and is due back in court July 9.

“He does not have substantial ties to the community other than the convenience store he operates, which is where he engaged in this criminal conspiracy,” assistant attorney general Tyler Reynolds told acting state Supreme Court Judge James Hudson in court.

The alleged scheme involved illegally trading cash for hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, the attorney general said.

“The conduct alleged in this case became even more heinous when we found the defendants stole emergency benefits for victims of Hurricane Sandy and used it for their own selfish purposes,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a release.

Police also arrested Mr. Parkash’s wife, Prabha Rani, 58, and  two dozen other recipients on theft charges.

Ms. Rani was held on $250,000 cash bail after her arraignment and is also due back in court July 9.

Mr. Parkash and his wife processed “phantom” SNAP transactions in cooperation with the cardholders without selling them any food from April 2010 to June 2013, the attorney general said. The owners allegedly gave the cardholders cash equalling up to half of the amount of the fake purchase and kept the remainder of the money for themselves, officials said.

Following Hurricane Sandy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture allocated an additional 50 percent in benefits to all SNAP recipients in affected areas without regard to need. The recipients charged in the case received Sandy benefits and illegally used their cards for cash in the months after the storm, the attorney general said.

The 18-month investigation revealed that in 2012 alone, Mr. Parkash and Ms. Rani rang up over $329,000 in SNAP benefits, authorities said while comparing those numbers to those SNAP benefits being tallied at nearby stores, none of which were higher than $6,439.

In every month since 2011, the couple redeemed more than $22,000 in SNAP benefits, with the number jumping to $36,000 in November 2012, and $30,000 in December after all SNAP card holders in Suffolk received the additional aide after Hurricane Sandy

The money laundering charge comes as a “result of his use of a bank account set up for the use of New York State Lottery business that came into his store, but which he used to launder proceeds of his illegal scheme,” authorities said.

Also arrested and charged with one count of fourth-degree grand larceny and one count of misuse of food stamps were: Carla Anderson, 38, of Riverhead; Jill Arrington, 38, of Calverton; Anthony Calloway, 36, of Riverhead; Lakisha Darden, 36, of Aquebogue; Eric Dunsing, 37, of Riverhead; Kerri Ferrante, 27, of Riverhead; Shavon Goode, 30, of Riverhead; Josie Harris, 47, of Riverhead; Jessica Kennedy, 27, of Riverhead; Cynthia Massenburg, 48, of Riverhead; Tameka Miles, 31, of Riverhead; Stephanie Nash, 28, of Riverhead; Troy Smolen, 46, of Riverhead and Sirena Trent, 38, of Riverhead.

Five others from elsewhere in Suffolk County were also arrested.

The defendants, several of whom were wearing pajamas, were arraigned Thursday in a packed courtroom.

Also indicted were Brenda Richardson, 50, of Riverhead; Eric Brown Jr., 24, of Riverhead and Anthony Durham Jr., 26, of Riverhead. They have not yet been apprehended.

The attorney general filed a civil suit against Mr. Parkash, Ms. Rani and their business, Shivani Enterprises, Inc., seeking restitution of more than $670,000 and damages of more than $2 million. The business was also criminally charged.

Police confiscated a computer, security cameras and information regarding food stamps during the gas station raid, according to witnesses at the store.

Mr. Parkash was also arrested in April 2012 on charges that he sold alcohol to a minor from the snack mart.

Town assessment rolls list Prabha Rani as the property owner.

ORIGINAL STORY: Police raided a Gulf gas station on East Main Street in downtown Riverhead Thursday morning, confiscating a computer, security cameras and information regarding food stamps, according to witnesses at the store.

A man at the station’s snack mart, who requested his name not be used in this report, said he received a phone call from the property owner requesting the man open the store to authorities.

The gas station was cordoned off while state police and New York State attorney general’s office investigators combed the store, the man said.

He said employees at the station’s snack mart didn’t know what prompted the raid. The store was re-opened about 9:20 a.m. after officers left the scene. State police said they are coordinating the investigation with the state attorney general’s office.

State officials would not comment on any arrests or pending charges.

The property owner could not be reached for comment.

cmurray@timesreview.com

TIM GANNON PHOTO | State police shut down the Gulf gas station property just west of the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center Thursday morning.