States Attorney's Office District of Connecticut
|May 18, 2010||
NORWALK GROCERY STORE WORKER PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL FOOD STAMP FRAUD CHARGE
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that MARIA ZULETA, 42, of Norwalk, pleaded guilty today before Senior United States District Judge Ellen Bree Burns in New Haven to one count of food stamp fraud.
The federal Food Stamp Program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service and utilizes federal tax dollars to subsidize low-income households, affording such households the opportunity to achieve a more nutritious diet by increasing their food-purchasing power. Food Stamp recipients purchase eligible food items at retail food stores through the use of an EBT card, which is similar to an ATM card. Food Stamp benefits may be accepted by authorized retailers only in exchange for eligible items. Items such as alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, paper goods and soaps are not eligible for purchase with Food Stamp benefits, and it is a violation of the rules and regulations governing the food stamp program to allow benefits to be used to purchase ineligible items. Food stamp benefits may not lawfully be exchanged for cash under any circumstances. The program is designed so that the total amount of each purchase is electronically transferred to the retailer’s designated bank account.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Pedro L. Serrano owned Borinquen Grocery and Deli, located at 71 South Main Street in Norwalk, from approximately December 1999 to September 2004, when he sold the store to his daughter. ZULETA is Serrano’s girlfriend and also an employee of Borinquen Grocery and Deli. In September 2004, Serrano’s daughter filed an application with the Food Stamp Program for Borinquen Grocery and Deli to participate in the Food Stamp Program. The application was approved, and Borinquen Grocery and Deli began participating in the Food Stamp Program in October 2004.
Beginning in October 2005, Borinquen Grocery and Deli’s food stamp redemptions began to increase dramatically. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General (USDA-OIG) began an investigation. On 12 occasions in 2007 and 2008, an individual working with USDA-OIG entered Borinquen Grocery and Deli and redeemed food stamps totaling $993.18 in exchange for $470 in cash and a combination of eligible and ineligible items, including cigarettes. Serrano was the clerk who redeemed the food stamps on 10 occasions, and ZULETA was the clerk on two occasions.
Judge Burns has scheduled sentencing for July 30, 2010, at which time ZULETA faces a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
Borinquen Grocery and Deli is under new ownership.
This case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Paul H. McConnell.
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