Madison restaurant owner faces felony charges alleging food stamp fraud

Complaint alleges restauranteur fraudulently bought thousands of dollars in bulk food for his restaurant

Dane County Circuit Court
The Dane County Courthouse appears in a file photo. Shawn Johnson/WPR

The owner of a Madison restaurant is accused of misusing other people’s food assistance cards to buy thousands of dollars worth of bulk food, according to a criminal complaint filed last week in Dane Count Circuit Court.

Mahamadou Tunkara, who owns Kingdom Restaurant, faces five felony counts of knowingly trafficking in food stamps. Each of those counts applies to benefits worth between $100 and $5,000.

The 56-year-old Sun Prairie resident is also charged with identity theft for financial gain, a felony. And he faces three misdemeanor counts of unauthorized use of a public voucher. Each of those counts applies to benefits worth between $300 and $1,000.

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According to the criminal complaint, an agent with Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services flagged the case because a single phone number had been used to call Wisconsin’s FoodShare hotline 965 times in 2020 to check the balances on 185 food assistance cards.

That phone number corresponded to Kingdom Restaurant, even though Tunkara has never been an authorized to have a FoodShare card, and his restaurant wasn’t authorized to accept the benefits, the complaint alleges.

In all, further investigation revealed Tunkara called the hotline more than 3,500 times between 2019 and early 2023 to ask how much money was left on nearly 1,000 Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, prosecutors allege.

That includes two times in Feburary 2021 when Tunkara called to check the balance on someone’s FoodShare card after the person had died, prosecutors allege.

Tunkara would have needed full card numbers to get information about the card balances, officials said.

Surveillance footage from Gordon Food Services, Walmart and Woodman’s in Madison showed Tunkara using EBT cards that belonged to scores of different people more than 100 times over several years to buy food “presumably for his restaurant,” the complaint says.

Investigators interviewed a man whose FoodShare card had been used by Tunkara for more than $1,000 in fraudulent food purchases between 2020 and 2023. The man told them he had an arrangement, in which Tunkara would use the card in exchange for paying the man half of the card’s remaining value.

The man told investigators he believed Tunkara had been buying FoodShare cards for “seven or eight years,” and that “people would become aware of it ‘through the streets talking,’” the complaint says.

The complaint also says the state used undercover investigators contracted through the United States Department of Agriculture, who got Tunkara to agree to a similar arrangement, in which he paid the undercover agents for part of an EBT card’s value.

Tunkara couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

The complaint says a search of his car and restaurant turned up multiple EBT cards in addition to Social Security cards belonging to a woman and her children. The woman told a detective she had been looking all over for the cards, and may have accidentally left them at Kingdom Restaurant because she remembers dining there on the same day she visited a job center with a folder of important documents.

The charges, which were first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, could carry prison time as well as thousands of dollars in fines.

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