Monroe business owner pleads guilty to SNAP/WIC benefits fraud
MONROE, La. – United States Attorney Stephanie A. Finley announced today that a Monroe grocery store owner pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide cash and ineligible items to SNAP and WIC recipients in exchange for their benefits.
Allen Woods, 60, of Monroe, pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy and one count of theft of government property before U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen L. Hayes. The plea will become final when accepted by U.S. District Judge Robert G. James.
According to evidence presented at the guilty plea hearing, Woods operated two businesses illegally at the same location on Old Sterlington Road in Monroe from December 2010 until March 2014. After his other business, Big Al’s grocery store, located on Sherrouse Street in Monroe, was permanently disqualified from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in March of 2010, he opened Honey’s Grocery Store on Old Sterlington Road with another Monroe resident in 2010. They were cleared to participate in the SNAP program in December of 2010. As the owner of Honey’s, Woods and others permitted SNAP and WIC recipients to exchange their benefits for ineligible items.
After Honey’s closed its operations in August 2012, Woods and Marshall Brown opened Brown’s Grocery Store in the same building as Honey’s in September of 2010. Brown’s name was used to qualify the business as a SNAP retailer. Woods, Brown, and others allowed SNAP benefits to be used to purchase ineligible items such as alcohol and tobacco from September 2012 until March 2014. Woods, Brown, and others also exchanged cash for SNAP benefits and fraudulently acquired at least $5 million from illegally trafficking SNAP and WIC benefits while operating Honey’s and Brown’s grocery stores.
Woods faces up to five years in prison for the conspiracy count and up to 10 years in prison for the theft count. He also faces forfeiture of money and property connected with the charges. A sentencing date of August 30, 2015 was set. Brown pleaded guilty March 6, 2015 to the conspiracy count. A sentencing date of July 6, 2015 was set for Brown. They also both face up to three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl M. Campbell is prosecuting the case.