Newark woman is prison-bound after $890,000 food stamps scheme
NEWARK — A woman was sentenced Wednesday to 24 months in prison for a food stamps fraud scheme she ran with her father out of a small grocery store in the city.
Maria Teresa Venegas, of Newark, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to one count of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit fraud, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said.
Venegas was the listed owner of Jenny’s Deli, while her father, Manuel Venegas, was a store employee from March 2015 through March 2018, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said the daughter-and-father duo exchanged more than $885,000 in SNAP benefits for cash between 2011 and 2018, by letting customers swipe their government issued Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which similar to a debit card, for phony purchases.
When ringing up purchases on an EBT terminal, the amount is deducted electronically from the SNAP benefits reserved for the eligible customer and the purchase amount is credited to the retailer’s designated bank account.
Law enforcement had seen a high volume of SNAP benefits redemptions for Jenny’s Deli, which authorities say often indicates fraud.
An undercover agent also witnessed the illegal exchange of SNAP benefits for cash by making about 20 “purchases” at Jenny’s Deli where either of the Venegas or another deli employee exchanged money for SNAP benefits.
Jenny’s Deli was authorized to accept benefits provided by SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, as administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retail food stores approved for participation in SNAP may sell food in exchange for SNAP benefits but may not exchange SNAP benefits for cash.
In addition to the prison term, Maria Teresa Venegas was sentenced to two years of supervised release and ordered restitution of $888,487.
Manuel Venegas pleaded guilty in October to the same charge and is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on March 6.
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