Two sentenced for illegally obtaining nearly 50 tons of cheese and more | USAO-SDTX
BROWNSVILLE, Texas — Two women have been sent to prison after being convicted of conspiracy and committing $1.2 million in food stamp fraud, U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery said.
Ana Rioja, 51, Brownsville, and Maria Consuelo de Ureno, lawful permanent resident of Brownsville, 55, pleaded guilty on May 12, 2021 to conspiracy to commit and commit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud ).
Today, US District Judge Rolando Olvera Jr. sentenced Rioja to 30 months in prison which will be immediately followed by one year of supervised release. Ureno received 37 months followed by a three-year period of probation. Ureno could also face the loss of his legal status in the United States and deportation proceedings after his release from prison. In handing down the prison sentences, Judge Olvera ordered Rioja and Ureno to pay $975,401 and $1,284,282.15 respectively in restitution.
Beginning in February 2016, the investigation revealed that Ureno, Rioja, and other co-conspirators exchanged SNAP benefits for cash using a point-of-sale device at a local meat market owned by Rioja . Additionally, authorities discovered that Ureno and co-conspirators made fraudulent transactions at Sam’s Wholesale Club.
The investigation uncovered 715 fraudulent transactions linked to 83 unique SNAP benefit recipients that the conspirators exchanged for cash or food. Ureno’s fraudulent purchases totaled approximately 49.1 tons of American cheese slices, 22.3 tons of pinto beans, 1.6 tons of Folgers coffee, 1.4 tons of instant mashed potatoes and over 5,000 gallons of mayonnaise that she would sell to a partner and transport to Mexico.
Between September 2014 and August 2019, Rioja and Ureno made approximately $1.2 million in fraudulent transactions.
Ureno has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a US Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. La Rioja was allowed to remain on bail and voluntarily surrender on a date to be determined in the near future.
Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ana C. Cano and Jose A. Esquivel prosecuted the case.