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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Maryland

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Retailer Sentenced To Over Two Years In Prison For Food Stamp Fraud

Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett sentenced Amara Cisse, age 50, of Windsor Mill, Maryland, to 27 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for food stamp fraud in connection with a scheme to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash. Judge Bennett also entered an order that Cisse forfeit and pay restitution of $654,349.24.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge William G. Squires, Jr. of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region; and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Cisse owned Simbo Food Mart, a convenience store located at 2103 West Pratt Street in Baltimore. Cisse’s wife, Fanta Keita worked at the store. The store participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously known as the Food Stamp Program. In Maryland, the program provides eligible individuals with an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card called the Independence Card, which operates like a debit card. Recipients obtain EBT cards through the state Department of Human Resources, then use the EBT card to purchase approved food items from participating retailers.

According to his plea agreement, Cisse completed the required government form in May of 2010 to become an authorized retailer in the program, certifying that he understood that it was a violation of SNAP regulations to trade cash for SNAP benefits. From November 1, 2010 to May 2013, Cisse and Keita exchanged SNAP benefits for cash at less than face value of the EBT benefits, and kept up to 50 percent of the benefits for themselves, using the cash to pay rent and other bills.

The Court determined today that Cisse obtained more than $654,349.24 in payments for food sales that never occurred.

Fanta Keita, age 45, also of Windsor Mill, previously pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 18, 2014.

Eight of the 10 convenience store owners or operators who were indicted in September 2013 in connection with schemes to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash have pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud and/or wire fraud. Two of those defendants were sentenced on February 21, 2014 by U.S. District Judge George L. Russell, III: Hyung Cho, age 40, to 38 months in prison, and his mother Dae Cho, age 67, to 18 months in prison. Two more retailers were indicted in January 2014.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised USDA’s Office of Inspector General and FBI for their work in the investigation. U.S. Attorney Rosenstein expressed appreciation to Secretary Ted Dallas and the Maryland Department of Human Resources, as well as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services - Office of Fraud Detection and National Security for their assistance in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Leo J. Wise, who is prosecuting this case.

Updated January 26, 2015