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Aug. 28, 2012

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Former Grocery Store Owner Sentenced for Conspiring to Commit WIC Fraud

McALLEN, Texas - Fernando Ramirez Estrada, the former owner and operator of Mary’s Mart in Mission, Texas, has been sentenced to prison for conspiring 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, 46, of Mission, pleaded guilty to the charge Monday, April 30, 2012.

Today, U.S. District Judge Randy Crane sentenced Estrada to a term of 24 months in federal prison without parole. In handing down the sentence, the court found that Estrada was a leader/organizer and that he abused a position of public trust as a vendor with the WIC program and used his position to facilitate the commission or concealment of the conspiracy. Estrada was also ordered to serve a three-year-term of supervised release and to pay $106,072.91 in restitution to the WIC program.

Mary’s Mart was 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.

Previously released on bond, Estrada was ordered into custody following the hearing today where he will remain pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

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.