SHAWN N. ANDERSON, United States Attorney for the Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI) announced that SINGEO I. SINGENES, age 63, and INNOCENCIA ESIROM, age 56, were sentenced in U.S. District Court today by Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood. SINGENES and ESIROM were convicted of unauthorized use of food stamp benefits, in violation of Title 7, United States Code, Section 2024(b). Each defendant received a sentence of 12 months and one day imprisonment to be followed by three years of supervised release. The Court also ordered each defendant to pay a $100 special assessment fee and, jointly and severally, a total of $490,000 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
SINGENES owned and ESIROM operated S & I Mart, a small convenience store that was located in Barrigada, Guam, and has since closed. On March 1, 2011, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service authorized S & I Mart to participate in the agency’s program known as SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program. SNAP is a 100% federally funded program that provides financial aid to eligible recipients for use at authorized retail food stores. Under the program, SNAP recipients receive electronic benefits transfer (“EBT”) authorization cards that operate as debit cards. Each month authorized recipients are issued certain amounts of SNAP benefits that could be accessed only with their EBT cards and encrypted personal identification numbers. Under the program, SINGENES and ESIROM knew that SNAP benefits could not be accepted or redeemed in exchange for credit or loans, and that SNAP recipients could not be discriminated against by charging them interest or different prices, among other things.
From March 1, 2011 to September 1, 2013, the defendants defrauded the USDA and obtained SNAP benefits in exchange for extending credit to SNAP recipients. The defendants allowed SNAP recipients to purchase items on credit, and used their SNAP benefits from their EBT cards to pay off their credit balances at the beginning of the next month. The defendants also charged higher prices to SNAP recipients who purchased merchandise on credit and charged them a $20 late fee if they failed to pay their credit balances at the beginning of the following month. The practice of accepting SNAP benefits as payment on credit accounts or loans was a violation of the program and accounted for 90% of the store’s sales.
U.S. Attorney Anderson stated, “The USDA investigation revealed a continuous pattern of fraud by these defendants over a substantial period of time. The SNAP program provides essential nutritional benefits to needy families nationwide. That these defendants would defraud not only the program, but also the recipients is unconscionable. Our office will hold dishonest retailers accountable through prosecution and disqualification in an effort to maintain the integrity of this important program.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the USDA-Office of Inspector General investigated the case. The case was prosecuted by Marivic P. David, Assistant United States Attorney.