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April 30, 2012

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Former Grocery Store Owner Pleads Guilty to Conspiring to Commit WIC Fraud

McALLEN, Texas - Fernando Ramirez Estrada, 45, of Mission, Texas, has been convicted of conspiracy to commit WIC fraud, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. Women, Infants and Children (WIC) is a federally funded program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) designed to safeguard the health of low income mothers, expectant mothers, infants and young children.

Estrada is the former owner and operator or Mary’s Mart, a local retail grocery store located in Mission. After opening Mary’s Mart, Estrada arranged for the business to become authorized to accept WIC benefits from authorized recipients in exchange for their purchase of approved food items. Beginning in October 2004 through Feb. 1, 2011, Estrada conspired to defraud the WIC Program by paying WIC recipients cash for their WIC benefits. Estrada would then redeem the illegally purchased benefits for a higher value by filing fraudulent claims with the WIC Program falsely indicating the WIC benefits had been used by recipients to purchase approved food items, when in truth and in fact, the benefits were never used to purchase such items. In February 2011, Mary’s Mart was disqualified as a vendor from the WIC program. Mary’s Mart is now closed.

Estrada pleaded guilty at a hearing this morning before U.S. District Judge Randy Crane. At his sentencing hearing set for July 9, 2012, he faces up to five years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine plus up to three years of post-prison supervised release. Estrada was permitted to remain on bond pending sentencing, at which time the court will also decide the amount of restitution to be ordered in the matter.

The investigation leading to the charges in this case was conducted by the USDA-Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorney Casey N. MacDonald is prosecuting the case.