A welfare fraud bust in Pasadena, Glendale and Burbank this week netted three arrests, nine guns and almost $300,000 in cash, according to Pasadena police.
George Kerio, 38, of Glendale, the owner of Sunshine Liquor on East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, and two of his employees were arrested Tuesday for conspiracy to commit welfare fraud, said Lt. Phlunte Riddle.
The liquor store clerks are Nassib Shankou, 43, and Daniel Bonilla, 29, both of Pasadena. Law enforcement officials are seeking a fourth suspect, who lives in Burbank.
Pasadena police, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Secret Service and the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, served search warrants at five locations in Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale on Tuesday.
On Wednesday authorities served search warrants at storage containers in East Pasadena, where they found more than 1,000 cases of allegedly black market alcohol and cigarettes not approved for sale in California, said Pasadena Police Lt. John Dewar. Federal agencies are looking into possible connections to crime rings in other cities, Dewar said.
An investigation into several Pasadena liquor stores was launched in 2011 after authorities received complaints of welfare fraud, including improperly accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards for alcohol purchases, Riddle said.
Authorities now believe the crimes go beyond EBT fraud.
“There’s evidence of money laundering that extends into Northern California and additional EBT counterfeit criminal groups in Sacramento,” Riddle said.
“There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than just EBT fraud,” Dewar said. “It seems to be bigger than just the liquor store.”
A Sunshine worker who answered the phone Thursday declined comment.
According to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control website, Sunshine Liquor has been cited in the past for selling alcohol to a minor, and was ordered to close for 15 days and pay a $3,000 fine. The ABC report did not indicate when Sunshine Liquor was cited.
Shiara Davila-Morales, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, said Thursday her office is still reviewing the evidence and has not filed charges.