A Massachusetts woman pleaded guilty on Dec. 8 to defrauding the state of $3.6 million in food stamp benefits.
The woman, 45-year-old Vida Ofori Causey, is the owner of a Caribbean and African convenience store in Worcester, Massachusetts, according to the Telegram & Gazette. The store was used as a front for the operation.
The mechanism for the fraud was to buy Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits from the recipients for 50 cents for every SNAP dollar, which was done by Causey and two other clerks. Causey would then submit the full, undiluted value of the SNAP benefits to the government and would be paid in full.
The Telegram & Gazette reports that the money would then be laundered into Causey's MoneyGram account, which conducted money wires, orders and bill payments to keep the scheme going.
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The store was a small shop that had three aisles, and Causey's application for SNAP benefits estimated sales of $4,000 per year. Investigators found that for nearly three years, between 2011 and mid-2014, the store had eligible food sales of more than 2,000 percent of what Causey had put on the application.
MassLive.com reports that the store made more than 22,500 transactions of $100 or more over the course of four years, which raised questions, as the store is not built for that volume of sales. Undercover investigators reported instances of seeing people spend their SNAP benefits at the store and then leaving with large amounts of cash.
Causey admitted to stealing $3,638,900 from the state, and the maximum sentence for her crime carries up to 35 years in prison. Defense lawyer Edward P. Ryan Jr. said the prosecutor had recommended four years under the plea agreement, but added that he will be pursuing a lesser sentence for his client at sentencing in March 2016.
Under the plea agreement, Causey is required to repay the full amount of money plus fines. The Telegram & Gazette reports that $125,000 has already been seized from various bank accounts owned by Causey.