Baltimore, Maryland – Amara Cisse, age 50, and his wife Fanta Keita, age 45, both of Windsor Mill, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to food stamp fraud in connection with a scheme to illegally redeem food stamp benefits in exchange for cash.
The pleas were 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. Keita worked at the store with her husband. According to their plea agreements, 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.
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 indictment alleges that Cisse and Keita obtained more than $600,000 in payments for food sales that never occurred. According to the plea agreement, the Court will need to determine the actual amount of the financial loss for the purpose of calculating the sentencing guidelines and restitution.
Keita faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett scheduled her sentencing for March 3, 2014, at 3:00 p.m. Cisse and the government have agreed that if the Court accepts his plea agreement Cisse will be sentenced to 27 months in prison. Judge Bennett has scheduled his sentencing for March 6, 2014, at 3:00 p.m.
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 the case.