Providence Convenience Store Owner Sentenced To Federal Prison For Defrauding The Food Stamp Program, Money Laundering
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Cristina Ramirez, 37, of Providence, owner of Cristina’s Market in Providence, was sentenced on Thursday to twelve months and one day in federal prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, the first eight months to be served in home confinement, for defrauding the Food Stamp Program and money laundering. Ramirez’s sentence was announced by United States Attorney Peter F. Neronha.
At sentencing, U.S. District Court Judge Mary M. Lisi also ordered Ramirez to pay $399,000 in restitution to the Food Stamp Program, and to comply with all requests for information from immigration officials to ascertain her immigration status. Previously, Ramirez refused to provide information regarding her immigration status to law enforcement and to the court.
Ramirez is among ten individuals charged earlier this year as the result of a two-year federal investigation into various alleged conspiracies and actions to defraud the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as the Food Stamp Program, of more than $3 million dollars. Ramirez pleaded guilty on October 4, 2013, as charged in an information, with one count each of conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and money laundering. She is the first person to plead guilty and to be sentenced in this matter.
The investigation, as detailed in court documents, identified five Providence area businesses where it is alleged that store owners and/or employees allowed SNAP benefit recipients to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to exchange their SNAP benefits for cash, a violation of the program’s laws and regulations. In this matter, it was alleged that Ramirez added a surcharge to the recipients’ withdrawal of SNAP benefits, usually an amount equal to half that of the amount of cash benefit received by the recipient. SNAP benefit funds are transferred electronically directly to accounts managed by the retailer.
According to information presented to the court, beginning in at least October 2010, Ramirez stole nearly $400,000 from the Food Stamp Program in less than three years. Ramirez and her two employees, her ex-husband and another person, both believed to be in the United States illegally, conducted the illicit business transactions.
SNAP data maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, documents the growth in SNAP redemptions at Cristina’s Market from a monthly redemption rate of a few thousand dollars to a monthly redemption rate of up to more than $50,000. According to information presented to the court, Ramirez repeatedly withdrew the proceeds of her fraud in a manner that was designed to disguise its source, avoiding reporting requirements for transactions in excess of $10,000. Ramirez conducted $362,000 worth of transactions in this manner. The funds were used for personal and other non-business related expenses.
Ramirez was ordered to self-surrender to the U.S. Marshals on January 8, 2014, to begin serving her prison sentence. Ramirez is currently free on unsecured bond and was ordered to be monitored with the use of electronic GPS monitoring.
The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sandra R. Hebert and Richard B. Myrus.
The investigation was conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Retailer Investigations Branch; Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation; and the Rhode Island State Police.
To assist the media and the public, a glossary of federal judicial terms and procedures is available at http://www.justice.gov/usao/justice101/