This week, a 25-year-old deli owner in Newark admitted to defrauding the government of $888,486.89 through a food stamps scheme she conducted for more than six years. That means she started when she was 19. She is the Hermione Granger of SNAP fraud.
NJ.com reports that Maria Teresa Venegas, who was charged with one count of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit fraud, pleaded guilty to the Jenny’s Deli scheme, which she ran from November 2011 to February 2018.
When SNAP recipients used their benefit transfer cards in the store, Venegas would sometimes give the customers cash after entering false totals for their purchases. Authorities caught wind of the scheme due to the unusually high number of SNAP transactions the deli was processing, which means that if Venegas had been less of a Hermione and more of a Ron Weasley, she might have gotten away with it for longer.
Here’s how it worked (from NJ.com):
In an example provided charging documents, a SNAP recipient only bought $5 in items. Venegas, though, debited $75 from the person’s account, which was then credited to the deli’s bank account. She gave the SNAP recipient a portion of the proceeds and kept the rest... An undercover agent also made 20 purchases at Jenny’s Deli using SNAP benefits in exchange for cash.
If we assume the deli was open every day—she’s an overachiever, it’s a fair assumption—that’s approximately 2,190 days. That means she stole approximately $4.19 per day. When she faces sentencing in January, she’ll be looking at up to 20 years in prison.