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March 21, 2012

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Former Grocery Store Owner Indicted in Scheme to Steal From Programs Designed to Safeguard the Health of Low Income Families

McALLEN, Texas - Fernando Ramirez Estrada, 45, of Mission, Texas, has indicted on federal charges for his role in defrauding two federally funded programs administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson announced today. 

A federal grand jury in McAllen returned a two-count indictment charging Estrada with one count of conspiracy to defraud the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program and one count of conspiracy to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. The WIC Program is designed to provide nutritious foods and nutritional counseling to low-income mothers, expectant mothers, infants and young children and SNAP is designed to provide low-income families with nutritious food items.

Estrada was arrested on the charges by criminal complaint on Feb. 23, 2012, and subsequently released upon posting a $30,000 cash bond. He is scheduled for arraignment in McAllen on March 28, 2012, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos.

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 SNAP and WIC benefits from authorized recipients in exchange for their purchase of approved food items. The indictment alleges that 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. The indictment further alleges that beginning in January 2009 through Feb. 1, 2011, Estrada began using a similar scheme to defraud  SNAP by paying cash for SNAP benefits and then fraudulently redeeming the illegally purchased benefits at a higher value. 

In February 2011, Mary’s Mart was disqualified as a vendor from the WIC program. In January 2012, Mary’s Mart was disqualified as a retailer with SNAP. Mary’s Mart is now closed.

Each count of the indictment carries a maximum punishment of up to five years in prison and up to a $25,000 fine. 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.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence.
A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.