The government is showing no mercy on its continued crackdown against Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) abuse and fraud.
In New Jersey, a former grocery store owner was sentenced to a two-year prison term after pleading guilty to defrauding the government out of thousands of dollars in food stamps benefits through her place of business.
According to Newsweek, Maria Teresa Venegas, 25, attended a sentencing hearing this past Wednesday regarding her participation in an act of food stamp fraud. She was ordered to serve two years in prison for her participation in the crime. She is also being ordered to pay restitution for her crimes in the amount of $888,487.
Prosecutors on the case say that Venegas illegally traded cash to customers in exchange for a larger value of their food stamps benefits. In doing this, the store was reimbursed by the government dollar for dollar for all food stamp purchases, which allowed the store and its owners to rake in a hefty profit.
NJ.com reports some of the court documents revealed several examples of the woman’s fraudulent transactions, including one instance where the customer purchased only $5 worth of SNAP-eligible items, while Venegas charged the customer’s EBT card $75 and gave the customer just a fraction of the benefit funding back in cash.
According to KOMO 4 TV, Venegas was the owner of Jenny’s Deli in Newark for just over six years, from 2011 to 2018. It is estimated that during that time she defrauded the government out of nearly $900,000 in SNAP benefits.
Federal prosecutors say the owner of Jenny’s Deli in Newark illegally gave some customers cash in return for their food stamp benefits.https://t.co/rxaySd9HNV
— TribLIVE.com (@TribLIVE) February 21, 2019
Local and federal authorities started investigating the deli after it reported an unusually high number of SNAP transactions. During the investigation into Jenny’s Deli, an undercover agent posed as a customer and reportedly completed roughly 20 different transactions with Venegas in which he traded SNAP benefits for cash.
Venegas father, Manuel Venegas, was also accused of participating in the scheme and was also brought up on criminal charges alongside his daughter back in March 2018. Both were released on $200,000 bonds at the time.
No information is available at this time on when Manuel is expected to be sentenced.
Maria Teresa Venegas received a two-year sentence Wednesday and must pay $888,487 in restitution. https://t.co/STEwWeVeLr
— ABC 33/40 News (@abc3340) February 21, 2019
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that New Jersey authorities have had to investigate small, privately owned businesses. Back in 2016, NJ.com also reported a similar case in which a Checkpoint Mini Mart in Newark was also investigated for fraud. Authorities discovered a similar scheme going on after unusually high SNAP purchases had been reported at the corner store.
The owner, Charles Silva, was charged with defrauding the government of more than $1 million in SNAP benefits.