ST. THOMAS — Customers of Pueblo Supermarket will see less and less of the yellow shopping bags with the word “Pueblo” emblazoned in red over the next several months.
Those bags will be replaced by brown paper bags or reusable shopping bags as part of a plea deal among the government, World Fresh Market, LLC doing business as Pueblo, and the owner of World Fresh Market, Ahmad Al Khatib, who purchased the assets of the territory’s four Pueblo stores in 2007.
Prosecutors charged that between December 2007 and September 2009, World Fresh Supermarket allowed tampering of the meters at its four stores — Ville la Reine and Golden Rock on St. Croix and Estate Thomas and Sub Base on St. Thomas — and stole about $1.3 million worth of electricity from WAPA.
Al Khatib, 51, of Chicago was arrested Sept, 10, 2009, and charged with using illegal connections to steal $1.3 million of electricity from the V.I. Water and Power Authority at his four stores in the territory.
Al Khatib faced charges of obtaining money by false pretense, grand larceny, meter tampering, reckless endangerment and operating a criminal enterprise, while World Fresh Market, as a corporation, was charged with several counts of tampering and illegal use of electricity.
Just days before the scheduled start of his trial on Monday, Al Khatib and defense attorney Treston Moore, acting on behalf of World Fresh Supermarket, accepted a deal from Assistant Attorney General Claude Walker, which called for World Fresh Market to plead nolo contendere to four counts of tampering and illegal use of utility. In exchange, the government agreed that the remaining counts against Al Khatib would be dismissed with prejudice.
As part of the plea deal, Al Khatib must pay a $12,000 fine, and World Fresh Market must perform an environmentally friendly community service initiative by next March.
“No later than March 31, 2011, World Fresh Market will begin to phase out plastic bags and give their customers either brown paper bags or reusable bags,” Walker said at Friday’s hearing before V.I. Superior Court Judge James Carroll III. “It takes about 100 years for one plastic bag to decompose. They choke our landfills, and this removes that environmental hazard by World Fresh Market encouraging customers to use brown paper bags or reusable bags.
“It’s a unique agreement and we’re asking you to accept it,” Walker said to Carroll.
In addition to satisfying the requirements in the plea deal, Al Khatib also has agreed to pay restitution — which is not part of the government’s plea offer — to WAPA, according to Moore.
“After several meetings with WAPA, they agreed on a specific figure. The victim has been made whole,” Moore said, but did not disclose the amount Al Khatib will hand over to WAPA.
— Contact reporter Corliss Smithen at 774-8772 ext. 302 or e-mail email@example.com.