Columbia Man Sentenced for Theft of Food Stamp Money
Columbia, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Beth Drake stated today that Christopher O’Berry, age 43, of Columbia, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for Theft of Government Money, a violation of Title 18, United States Code, § 641. Senior United States District Judge Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., of Columbia, also ordered O’Berry to pay $1,039,981.75 in restitution to the United States.
Evidence presented at the change of plea hearing established that the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for the administration and regulation of the SNAP. SNAP, commonly known as the food stamp program, assists low-income families and individuals purchase food.
Christopher O’Berry operated Cynthia’s Soul Food Deli (formerly Food World) in the Columbia area. The Deli served food, but was also registered to receive SNAP benefits as payment for food items. This arrangement posed two issues. First, SNAP does not pay for prepared food. Second, the Deli did not stock sufficient food to justify the purchases recorded under SNAP. O’Berry allowed beneficiaries to make small purchases through SNAP but processed them as much larger amounts. He would then pay some cash to the beneficiary and keep some for himself.
The investigation traced proceeds of the theft to a Woodforest National Bank account controlled by O’Berry. O’Berry deposited $956,006.90 between May 2011 and December 2014. He then withdrew $158,187 in cash and transferred $714,032 to his own accounts. The rest was used to make minimal purchases for the store.
U.S. Attorney Drake stated, “SNAP is an important source of critical funding to South Carolinians most in need, including the elderly and young families. When the unscrupulous or dishonest defraud the program- and that includes businesses and recipients of SNAP benefits- they are both stealing from the tax payers and eroding a program that does a lot of good.”
The Richland County Sherriff’s Office, the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, and the Internal Revenue Service investigated the case. Assistant United States Attorney Winston David Holliday, Jr., of the Columbia office is prosecuting the case.