Two More Plead Guilty to Defrauding the Federal Food Stamp Program
ALBUQUERQUE – Two defendants in a six-defendant case have entered guilty pleas to defrauding the federal food stamp program. Justin Quintana, 29, of Rio Rancho, N.M., plead guilty yesterday and Wilfredo Lopez, 46, of Albuquerque, N.M., entered his guilty plea earlier today. A third defendant, Joshua Moya, 33, also of Albuquerque, entered a guilty plea and was sentenced earlier this year.
Quintana and Lopez were among six defendants charged with defrauding the Food Stamp Program in a 32-count indictment that was filed in Aug. 2014. The indictment alleged that between Sept. 2009 to May 2010, Joseph Martin Padilla, 33, conspired with Quintana, Lopez, Sergio Escobedo, 36, and Veronica Hernandez, 41, to defraud the United States through the unauthorized use of Food Stamp benefits, which are currently called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. During this time, Padilla worked as a Family Assistance Analyst for the Income Support Division of the New Mexico Human Services Department where he allegedly was responsible for determining applicants’ eligibility and benefit level for SNAP benefits.
According to the indictment, SNAP is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is administered by the States. The program was created to alleviate hunger and malnutrition, and permits low income households to obtain more nutritious diet by increasing the food purchasing power for eligible households. In New Mexico, individuals qualify to participate in SNAP based on income and need by completing an application with the Income Support Division of the New Mexico Human Services Department. Once an applicant is deemed eligible for SNAP benefits by a Family Assistance Analyst, the Analyst establishes a SNAP account in the applicant’s name and electronic benefit transfers (EBT), which are determined based on income, resources and household size, are deposited into the account on a monthly basis.
Count 1 of the indictment alleges that Padilla abused his position as a Family Assistance Analyst to conspire with his co-defendants to defraud the United States through the unauthorized use of SNAP benefits. It alleges that Padilla used names and personal identifiers he obtained from his co-defendants to establish fraudulent SNAP accounts, sometimes in exchange for cash or other things of value. Count 2 alleges that Padilla established a fraudulent SNAP account and used the account to fraudulently obtain approximately $1,468.00 in SNAP benefits for himself. Counts 3 through 27 of the indictment allege that Padilla fraudulently established 25 separate SNAP accounts through which the United States was defrauded of approximately $45,263.00 in SNAP benefits. Counts 28 through 32 allege that Padilla, aided and abetted by his co-defendants, fraudulently established SNAP accounts that were used to fraudulently obtain an aggregate of $12,705.00 in SNAP benefits.
Yesterday Quintana pled guilty to Count 30 of the Indictment, and admitted meeting Padilla through co-defendant Moya and knowing that Padilla had the ability to register people to receive food stamps. Quintana admitted that he agreed to pay Padilla a fee in exchange for arranging for him to receive food stamps unlawfully. Quintana obtained $486.00 in SNAP benefits through his illegal conduct. He also received a fee for collecting SNAP applications from six other people and delivering the completed applications to Padilla for the purpose of assisting them in obtaining SPA benefits unlawfully. Quintana acknowledged that his criminal conduct caused a monetary loss to the U.S. Department of Agriculture of approximately $9,384.00.
Today Lopez entered a guilty plea to Count 32 of the indictment and admitted completing fraudulent applications for SNAP benefits in his name, another for himself in a pseudonym, and in the names of two other individuals. Lopez paid $100.00 to process each of the applications. He acknowledged that his criminal conduct caused a total monetary loss to the U.S. Department of Agriculture of approximately $8,382.00. Under the terms of the plea agreements, Quintana and Lopez each face up to six months in prison when they are sentenced. Each will be required to pay restitution. Their sentencing hearings have yet to be scheduled.
On March 9, 2015, Moya pled guilty to Count 31 of the indictment and admitted that he fraudulently obtained SNAP benefits to which he was not entitled. Moya admitted that in early Dec. 2009, Padilla provided him with an application to obtain food stamps. Moya completed the application and returned it to Padilla for processing even though he knew that he was not entitled to SNAP benefits. Moya admitted unlawfully receiving $866.00 in SNAP benefits. Moya also admitted providing another application for SNAP benefits to a family member and that his relative unlawfully received $1,578.00 in SNAP benefits. On May 6, 2015, Moya was sentenced to six months in prison, or time served, followed by three years of supervised release. Moya also was ordered to pay $2,444.00 in restitution.
Padilla, Escobedo and Hernandez have entered not guilty pleas to the charges in the indictment. Charges in indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean J. Sullivan.