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Press Release

Essex County, New Jersey, Man Admits That He Exchanged Over $840,000 In ‘Snap’/Food Stamp Benefits For Cash

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey

TRENTON, N.J. – An Irvington, New Jersey, man today admitted that he stole more than $840,000 from the U.S. Government through a scheme to exchange food stamps for cash, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Miguel Antonio Azcona, a/k/a “Miguel A. Azcona-Peralta,” 38, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper in Trenton federal court to an information charging him with one count of theft of government funds.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

Azcona was the owner of New Community Supermarket on Springfield Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. New Community Supermarket was a small grocery that was authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps). Azcona controlled a business bank account for New Community Supermarket to receive the reimbursements for SNAP benefits.

Azcona knew that as a SNAP retailer, he was not allowed to exchange food stamps for cash. Yet from August 2014 through Aug. 11, 2016, Azcona and others, including employees under his supervision, unlawfully redeemed SNAP benefits in exchange for cash rather than food. In return for exchanging SNAP benefits for cash, New Community Supermarket retained a portion of the transaction’s value for Azcona’s benefit.

At his plea hearing, Azcona admitted that his conduct resulted in losses of approximately $840,583.54.

The count of theft of government funds carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is set for May 3, 2017.

U.S. Attorney Fishman 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 in New York; and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elaine K. Lou of the Criminal Division in Newark.

Defense counsel: David R. Oakley, Esq.

Updated January 23, 2017

Press Release Number: 17-017