Newark woman sentenced to 2 years for food stamps scheme

NEWARK, NJ — A Newark woman was sentenced Feb. 20 to two years in prison for her role in a food stamps fraud scheme, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito announced. Maria Teresa Venegas had previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge John Michael Vazquez to an information charging her with one count of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefit fraud.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court, Venegas was the listed owner of Jenny’s Deli, a small grocery store in Newark. From March 2015 to March 2018, her father, Manuel Venegas, was an employee of Jenny’s Deli.

Jenny’s Deli was authorized to accept benefits provided by SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program; the program is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retail food stores approved for participation in SNAP may sell food in exchange for SNAP benefits but may not exchange SNAP benefits for cash. According to the charges against them, Maria Teresa Venegas and Manuel Venegas exchanged more than $885,000 in SNAP benefits for cash between 2011 and 2018.

In addition to the high volume of SNAP benefits redemptions for Jenny’s Deli, indicating fraud, law enforcement agents verified the fraudulent exchange of SNAP benefits for cash through the use of an undercover law enforcement agent who engaged in approximately 20 “purchases” at Jenny’s Deli where Manuel Venegas, Maria Teresa Venegas or another Jenny’s Deli employee acting at their direction exchanged money for SNAP benefits.

In addition to the prison term, Vazquez sentenced Maria Teresa Venegas to two years of supervised release and ordered restitution of $888,487.

Manuel Venegas pleaded guilty on Oct. 30, 2018, to the same charge and is scheduled to be sentenced on March 6.