Three Tallahassee Residents Convicted of Food Stamp Fraud
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – United States Attorney Pamela C. Marsh announced today that three men have been convicted of conspiring to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as other charges. SNAP is also known as the food stamp program. Rodrigue Bissainthe, 26, pled guilty to conspiracy and to two mail fraud charges on November 27, 2013. Darius Jemmott, 21, was convicted of conspiracy, three charges of fraud involving interstate wire communications, and aggravated identity theft at a trial that concluded December 3, 2013. Dwayne Phanor, 24, pled guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and seven aggravated identity theft charges on December 4, 2013, after a jury had been sworn to try his case.
SNAP provides economic assistance to qualified low-income people, to help them obtain adequate food. This assistance is provided on Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, which function as pre-loaded debit cards. The United States Department of Agriculture funds the SNAP program. In Florida, SNAP is administered by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF). When these crimes occurred, between January and April 2013, DCF had contracted with JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) to service aspects of the program. The Department of Financial Services (DFS) investigates public assistance fraud arising from DCF programs.
According to matters presented in Court, DCF realized in March 2013 that numerous SNAP applications had been received for a single Tallahassee address, on Magnolia Court. Controlled deliveries of EBT cards to that address led to the arrest of Bissainthe by the Tallahassee Police Department on April 16, 2013. Bissainthe admitted that he was receiving these cards for Phanor and that Phanor had given him an EBT card for his own use.
DFS was able to track the use of another EBT card at local merchants, leading to the identification and arrest of Jemmott on April 18, 2013. Jemmott had that card on his person when arrested and eventually admitted buying it from Phanor.
Phanor was arrested in an adjacent Tallahassee apartment, also on April 18, 2013. Phanor’s backpack held voluminous notations relating to fraudulent EBT applications and change of address requests. Phanor advised that his telephone number was the same as the number that had been used to make calls to a JPMC EBT call center. Phanor admitted filing numerous SNAP applications using other people’s names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth. Phanor indicated that he gained access to an Ocala Road delivery address through Jemmott. Another address on West Georgia Street was also used.
Some of Phanor’s fraudulent applications were denied, because those people were already receiving SNAP benefits. Phanor admitted calling the JPMC call center, pretending to be the genuine beneficiaries (both men and women), and asking that the benefits be re-directed to the addresses he controlled. His aggravated identity theft convictions were based upon seven of these calls.
A DCF representative presented documents showing that at least 72 fraudulent applications were filed, involving a potential loss of $101,258.82 and an actual loss of $7,291.88. The defendants will be sentenced by United States District Judge Mark Walker. Bissainthe will be sentenced on February 7, 2014, and Jemmott and Phanor on March 14, 2014. The conspiracy, wire fraud, and mail fraud convictions each carry a maximum possible term of twenty years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a three-year term of supervised release. The penalty for aggravated identity theft is a mandatory two years in prison, a maximum $250,000 fine, and a one-year term of supervised release. Sentence on aggravated identity theft charges must be consecutive to sentences for any other conviction, but may be concurrent with other aggravated identity theft sentences.
U.S. Attorney Marsh praised the joint efforts of the Department of Children and Family Services, the Department of Financial Services, the Tallahassee Police Department, the United States Postal Inspectors, and the United States Secret Service for their hard work, dedication, and expertise in the investigation that led to the prosecution of this case.This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael T. Simpson.