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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, March 12, 2018

Essex County, New Jersey, Father And Daughter Charged In Food Stamps Scheme

NEWARK, N.J. – Two individuals who operate a Newark grocery store were charged today with fraudulently exchanging over $885,000 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for cash, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced.

Maria Teresa Venegas, 25, and her father, Manuel Venegas, 53, both of Newark, are charged by complaint with SNAP benefits fraud. Both were arrested this morning and appeared in the afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark federal court. They were released on $200,000 unsecured bond.

According to the complaint:

Since November 2011, the defendants managed Jenny’s Deli, a small grocery store in Newark that was authorized to accept SNAP benefits, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program. The program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retail food stores approved for participation in SNAP may sell food in exchange for SNAP benefits but may not exchange SNAP benefits for cash. 

Manuel and Maria Teresa Venegas allegedly exchanged more than $885,000 in SNAP benefits for cash between 2011 and 2018. In addition to the high volume of SNAP redemptions for Jenny’s Deli indicating fraud, law enforcement officers used an undercover agent who engaged in approximately 20 “purchases” at Jenny’s Deli where one or both defendants allegedly exchanged cash for SNAP benefits.

The SNAP benefits fraud charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins, with the investigation leading to today’s charges.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason S. Gould of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.

The charge and allegations in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defense counsel:
Maria Teresa Venegas: Linda Foster, Esq., Assistant Federal Public Defender, Newark
Manuel Venegas: Laurie Fierro Esq., Kinnelon, New Jersey

Component(s): 
Press Release Number: 
18-095
Updated March 12, 2018