Definition of Helping

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Prudent senior woman looking at her coupons before paying for her groceries.

A couple who owned and operated a small convenience store in Barrigada, Guam told a judge they were just trying to help by extending credit to their customers who didn’t have enough money at the end of each month to purchase food. While they did not see anything wrong with allowing their customers to pay back their debt with food stamps or charging a $20 service fee for being late, the court did. Fortunately, today’s two fraudsters are now all on the same page regarding the definition of “helping,” because the judge helped them to understand why their food stamp fraud scheme was illegal.

While the convenience store was approved to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, the couple violated the rules of the government program. When the couple applied to be a SNAP-approved retailer, they knew that SNAP benefits could not be accepted or redeemed for credit or loans. They also knew that SNAP recipients could not be discriminated against by charging them interest, late fees or higher prices. (They did all three in their effort to “help” their vulnerable customers. Ironic, isn’t it?)

 For more than two-and-a-half years, the defendants intentionally defrauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture by accepting SNAP benefits in exchange for credit. Additional research showed that the convenience mart’s practice of accepting SNAP benefits as payment on credit accounts or loans amounted to 90 percent of the store’s sales. (That’s what most likely tipped off the government.) SNAP beneficiaries typically paid back their credit balances at the beginning of the next month. (Which most likely caused SNAP recipients to incur more debt they could not pay back.)

The 63-year-old man and his 56-year-old wife whose name actually means “innocent” were found guilty of food stamp fraud. (The judge read them the riot act about how they profited off violating the law.) They were each sentenced to spend a year and one day in jail, to be followed by three years of supervised release. They were each also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment fee and jointly and severally, $490,000 in restitution to SNAP.

While these two fraudsters from Guam claimed to be “helping” their customers who didn’t have any money or SNAP benefits remaining at the end of the month, the couple was actually “helping” themselves to government benefits so they could purchase a boat and boat engines, and probably other things as well. (Just a reminder to anyone else thinking about carrying out a food stamp fraud scheme – this blog is very “helpful’ in showing what the consequences can be for those who steal from a government program.)

Today’s Fraud of the Day is based on an article, Singeo Singenes and Innocencia Esirom sentenced to one year in food stamp fraud case,” published by the Houston Chronicle on June 21, 2019.

A couple who owned and operated S & I Mart in Barrigada were each sentenced to spend a year in federal prison for violating the federal food stamp program regulations.

Singeo I. Singenes and Innocencia Esirom both told the judge that they thought they were helping people.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.