News and Press Releases

United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington

Seattle Food Stamp Fraudster Sentenced To 34 Months In Prison

Women Trafficked for Over Three Years in Seattle’s International District

November 2, 2011

            ANH THI NGUYEN, 54, of Seattle, Washington, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 34 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and $200,000 in restitution for three counts of wire fraud and nine counts of food stamp fraud.  NGUYEN was repeatedly captured on undercover video exchanging food stamp benefits for cash.  In 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, NGUYEN was seen standing outside various grocery stores in the International District of Seattle, taking electronic benefits cards from benefit recipients, going inside the stores to have them run for cash, and then returning half the cash amount to the card holder.  At the time of her arrest, NGUYEN was also a food stamp recipient, who had $1600 cash in her pocket.  At sentencing U.S. District Judge James L. Robart said that the defendant’s conduct was “extraordinarily blatant,” and that food stamp trafficking, a “serious crime,” was the “major occupation of the defendant.” 

            NGUYEN was convicted at trial in August 2011.  The jury deliberated less than two hours before finding her guilty.  Video of NGUYEN interacting with undercover officers showed that she knew what she was doing was wrong.  She asked one undercover investigator if he “was the FBI?”  She directed the undercover officers and the store cashiers on how to break the transactions up into smaller quantities to help avoid detection. 

            In asking for a significant sentence, prosecutors note that NGUYEN hurt those who truly need the food stamp benefits. “As the result of her conduct, which was the subject of an undercover operation conducted by a news organization, members of the public have lost confidence in the food stamp program.  There have been increasingly cries to end or severely restrict the program, as many people have begun to associate the program with widespread fraud.  This perception of the program hurts the countless unseen people who use the program for its intended purpose, to put food on the table for the family during hard times,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

            NGUYEN was arrested in October 2010, as part of a crackdown on food stamp trafficking.  The owner of one of the grocery stores, Elsa Ma Kwong, 47, was also arrested that day and has entered a guilty plea.   Kwong will be sentenced December 12, 2011.  Another food stamp trafficker, Cuc Thi-Kim Pham, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced on November 18, 2011. 

            The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) and the Seattle Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Thomas Woods and Sunni Ko. 

            For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.

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