Employees and Manager of La Bodega Yakimex Sentenced for Food Stamp Fraud Scheme
Spokane – Today, Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that Roberto Medina and Benjamin Soberanes, two former employees of La Bodega Yakimex, a business operated in Yakima, Washington, were sentence for their roles in a food stamp fraud scheme. United States District Judge Thomas O. Rice sentenced Medina to a 13 month term of imprisonment and Soberanes to a six month term. Both will be under court supervision for three years following their release from Federal prison. Manpreet Singh, the manager of La Bodega Yakimex, was sentenced on September 23, 2014 to a 24 month term of imprisonment to be followed by a one year term of court supervision upon his release from prison.
Under the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) program, authorized recipients are issued a certain amount of benefits each month, which they may use to purchase eligible food items. SNAP recipients typically receive their benefits in the form of a credit on their personal electronic benefit transfer (“EBT”) card. SNAP benefits may not be used to purchase items other than food, and they cannot be redeemed for cash.
The Defendants participated in a scheme whereby SNAP recipients took their EBT cards to La Bodega Yakimex and, instead of purchasing food items, would say they wanted cash. Defendants would run the card as though food items had been purchased but, in fact, they would simply give the SNAP recipient half of the value in cash and the store would keep or “pocket” the other half. The scheme resulted in a total estimated loss of $315,382.77. Defendants Singh and Medina have been ordered to pay restitution to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in this amount.
Michael C. Ormsby said, “Food stamps are essential to supplement the income of members of our community and ensure families can afford the groceries they need. When opportunistic retailers defraud the system, as happened in this case, those families, particularly children who have no say in how food stamps are utilized, suffer, and our community suffers as a result.” The U.S. Attorney indicated this will not be an isolated prosecution and that other retailers engaged in this practice should be advised these cases are being aggressively investigated.
The investigation was conducted by the USDA Office of Inspector General and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Office of Fraud and Accountability. The case was prosecuted by Alison L. Gregoire and Mary K. Dimke, Assistant United States Attorneys for the Eastern District of Washington.