Former Burien Store Owner Sentenced to 14 Months in Prison for Food Stamp Trafficking
Government Analysis Shows more than $250,000 in Fraud
The former owner of Cynthia’s Polynesian Market in Burien, Washington was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to 14 months in prison and three years of supervised release for food stamp benefit fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. ROHIT REDDY, 43, pleaded guilty to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud on July 1, 2016. In his plea agreement, REDDY admitted that he allowed SNAP recipients to exchange their benefits for cash, while his store kept about 50 percent of the amount fraudulently redeemed on the benefit card. In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Judge James L. Robart encouraged REDDY, a native of Fiji, to “Please go back and preach the message to your community that the law applies to everyone.”
According to records filed in the case and evidence presented to the court, between March 2014 and June 2015 Cynthia’s Polynesian Market conducted more than 7600 transactions using food stamp debit cards. Of those transactions more than 2000 were for a dollar amount above $120. Investigators believe that is an unusually high number given the size and product selection at the market. Additionally, on 11 different occasions undercover agents were able to redeem benefits for cash while providing the store with the 50 percent premium. Finally, using a surveillance camera, investigators were able to link the processing of large dollar amounts from food stamp cards with the customers leaving the store. Investigators determined that the customers ‘spent’ as much as $600 but left the store with no or very few grocery bags – an indicator that the card benefits had been illegally exchanged for cash. On many of the higher transactions, the debit card was first checked to determine the balance, and the next transaction was to reduce the balance to almost zero – another sign of fraud.
At the sentencing hearing, prosecutors asked that the court determine the fraud was more than $250,000, while the defense argued it could be less than $10,000. Noting that REDDY had little ability to pay back the loss, Judge Robart set the loss and the restitution to be paid to the government of just more than $95,000.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) and the FBI. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Rebecca Cohen and Thomas Woods.