Former owner of the Meat Store also ordered to pay $545,000 restitution
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The former owner of a Louisville specialty food store was sentenced today in United States District Court, by Senior Judge Thomas B. Russell, to 33 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $545,000 restitution for committing Food Stamp fraud, announced United States Attorney Russell M. Coleman. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Today’s nearly three year prison sentence and $545,000 returned to victims, underscores our commitment to investigating and prosecuting criminals who steal from federal programs,” stated United States Attorney Russell Coleman. “This is a crime against tax payers – we will seek to restore every stolen dime that was meant to help those in need.”
Elias Estephane was convicted of defrauding a United States Department of Agriculture Program on November 9, 2017, following a four-day jury trial.
Estephane was the owner of the Meat Store located at 1066 South 28th Street and the Meat Store 2 located at 4835 Poplar Level Road. Both were specialty food stores focusing on meats and both were accepted as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or Food Stamp retailers. SNAP is a program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide food-purchasing assistance to low-income individuals through the issue of (EBT) cards to recipients. Evidence at trial showed that on multiple occasions Estephane traded cash for SNAP benefits, in violation of program rules that only permit benefits to be exchanged for eligible food items. Estephane generally paid customers fifty cents on the dollar for their benefits.
In 2015, the USDA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating the Meat Store’s redemption of SNAP benefits. They targeted the Meat Store because it had a significantly higher level of redemption of SNAP benefits compared to similar stores in the area. Specifically, the Meat Store’s month-to-month SNAP redemptions in 2015 were around 20 times the average redemptions from similar stores in the same geographic area.
During the course of the investigation, USDA and FBI sent two individuals into the Meat Store to attempt to sell SNAP benefits for cash. Between September 1, 2015, and July 12, 2016, the two individuals exchanged SNAP benefits for cash with defendant Estephane at the Meat Store on nine different occasions, eight of which were captured on video. Sometimes the individuals would present multiple SNAP EBT cards in different names during the undercover transactions and request cash from all of them.
During the trial, the United States submitted surveillance video of the Meat Store from four different days then compared transaction data with the video, flagging instances in which people spent $100 or more but left the store holding only one bag. Further the United States had five customer witnesses and one former employee testify.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Amanda E. Gregory and Stephanie M. Zimdahl, with the assistance of paralegal Mary Kennedy, and was investigated by U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).