News

Two More Retailers Plead Guilty To Food Stamp Fraud

To Date, Four Retailers Have Pleaded Guilty to Food Stamp Fraud

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 17, 2013

Baltimore, Maryland – Dae Cho, age 66, and her son Hyung Cho, age 40, both of Catonsville, Maryland, and citizens of Korea who are illegally present in the United States, pleaded guilty today to food stamp and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash.

The pleas were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William G. Squires, Jr. of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Dae Cho co-owned K&S Market, a convenience store located at 3910 West Belvedere Avenue in Baltimore. Dae and Hyung Cho operated the store. According to their plea agreements and court documents, the store participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamp Program. In Maryland, the program provides eligible individuals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card called the Independence Card, which operates like a debit card. Recipients obtain EBT cards through the state Department of Human Resources, then use the EBT card to purchase approved food items from participating retailers.

Dae Cho completed the required government form in March of 2004 to become an authorized retailer in the program. Dae and Hyung received training and instruction regarding the requirements of the food stamp program, including that it was a violation of SNAP regulations to trade cash for SNAP benefits. Nevertheless, from June 2011 through May 2013, Dae and Hyung Cho exchanged SNAP benefits for cash at less than face value of the EBT benefits, in violation of the food stamp program rules, and kept up to 50 percent of the benefits for themselves, using the cash to pay rent and other bills. Dae Cho has estimated that about $25,000 to $30,000 worth of food stamp benefits were exchanged in this manner per month and that this occurred approximately 50 times a day.

As a result of these unlawful cash transactions, Dae and Hyung Cho obtained more than $1,400,000 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

The defendants face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge George L. Russell, III scheduled their sentencing for February 21, 2014, at 10:00 a.m. The defendants have agreed to the entry of an order to forfeit $1,400,000. The defendants have further agreed not to object to any removal proceedings that may be brought to remove them from the United States upon completion of their sentence.

Amara Cisse, age 50, who owned Simbo Food Mart, located at 2103 West Pratt Street in Baltimore, and his wife Fanta Keita, age 45, who worked at the store, both of Windsor Mill, Maryland, pleaded guilty on December 3, 2013 to food stamp fraud in connection with a similar scheme to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash. They are scheduled to be sentenced on March 6, 2014, at 3:00 p.m.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised USDA’s Office of Inspector General and FBI for their work in the investigation. U.S. Attorney Rosenstein expressed appreciation to Secretary Ted Dallas and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Office of Fraud Detection and National Security for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Judson T. Mihok, who is prosecuting the case.

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