5 Defendants Plead Guilty In $5 Million
Food Stamp Fraud Conspiracy
SAVANNAH, GA: LITRICIA ALLEN, 37, from Savannah; JEWELL ALLEN, 57, from Atlanta; and, PETRINA BARGE, 41, from Decatur pled guilty yesterday before United States District Court Judge William T. Moore, Jr. to their roles in a $5 million food-stamp fraud upon the United States Department of Agriculture. Last week, SABRINA SESBERRY, 38, and RUPERT JONES, 34, both from Atlanta, also pled guilty to their roles in the scheme.
According to evidence presented during the guilty plea hearings, the defendants were involved in an conspiracy to unlawfully exchange over $5 million in government benefits from the food stamp and WIC (Women, Infant and Children) programs for cash. The scheme included thirteen storefronts throughout Georgia, including stores in Savannah, Augusta and Atlanta. With these five pleas, a total of 12 defendants have now pled guilty to their roles in the $5 million scheme.
United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver said, “These defendants swindled American taxpayers. Contrary to the laws governing the food stamp program, these defendants allowed benefit holders to convert food stamp and WIC benefits into cash, oftentimes for 60 cents on the dollar. Of course, these defendants fraudulently billed the taxpayers for the full value of the food stamp and WIC benefits. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to investigating and prosecuting financial fraud, especially when government programs are utilized as a vehicle to steal from taxpayers.”
Karen Citizen-Wilcox, Special Agent-in-Charge of the USDA-OIG said, “The USDA-OIG takes fraud in its nutritional programs very seriously and will work with the Department of Justice and other federal and state law enforcement entities to vigorously investigate and prosecute individuals who defraud USDA programs. In these economic times, the need for nutritional assistance has increased. Taxpayers expect their tax dollars to be used effectively and only within the confines of the rules and regulations of nutritional assistance programs. Trafficking in benefits by purchasing those benefits for cash is illegal. The OIG is committed to maintaining integrity in the USDA programs and continuing its investigations into these illegal activities.”
Donald B. Yaden, Special Agent-in-Charge with IRS Criminal Investigation stated, “The perpetrators who pled guilty yesterday financially benefitted from their fraudulent activities which resulted in a loss to the government but more importantly the taxpayers who depend on those programs. IRS-CI's role is to follow the money trail from the initial criminal act to the perpetrator who received the financial benefits.”
Sesberry, Jones, Jewell Allen and Litricia Allen pled guilty to stealing government funds. They now face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Barge pled guilty to conspiring to defraud the food stamp and WIC programs. She faces 5 years in prison, 3 years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. As part of their guilty pleas, Sesberry, Jones and Litricia Allen agreed to forfeit their interests in numerous bank accounts, a 2005 Corvette, a 2003 Ferrari and a 2005 Maserati seized during the investigation. A sentencing date will be scheduled after the Probation Office conducts a presentence investigation.
The prosecution of these defendants arise out of a joint investigation by Special Agent Salina Walker of the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General; Special Agent Jacqueline Reynolds and Task Force Officer Arnold Kenny of Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigations; Special Agent Brent Rothschild of the United States Secret Service; and, the Office of Inspector General with the Georgia Department of Human Services and Georgia Department of Public Health. Assistant United States Attorneys James Durham and Gregory Gilluly are prosecuting the case for the United States.