Seven South Carolina women who received food stamps as part of a $5 million food stamp fraud scheme pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of more than $20,000 at a store in Rock Hill.
A state court judge ruled that the women who pleaded guilty Thursday will be able to avoid jail sentences and probation if they pay back the money by December 31, 2017, the Charlotte Observer reported.
The seven women who pleaded guilty, in order of who defrauded the most money to those who defrauded the least amount, include: Jatonica Williams, 31, $5,238 in fraud; Dequitta White, 31, $3,070; Labrecia White, 24, $2,962; Shenisa Davis, 36, $2,549; Victoria Sanders, 25, $2,234; Kimberly Johnson, 28, $2,195 in fraud; and Brooke Rogers, 27, $2,134.
Johnson entered a guilty plea by herself while the other six pleaded guilty in two groups of three.
As part of the plea deal, all seven women pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fraud charges and promised to pay the money back in exchange for a 30-day suspended sentence and two years’ probation that will be dismissed if they pay the money back before the end of the year.
The store owners, on the other hand, did not get off so easily. Three of the store owners involved in the $5 million food stamp scam face five years behind bars and are expected to pay back up to $5 million.
If the store owners agree to testify against the food stamp recipients who used their benefits to receive illegal money and goods in state court, they may be eligible for reduced sentences in federal court.
South Carolina Assistant Attorney General Sam Jones told the Herald that it is a crime if food stamps are used for anything other than non-prepared food and no cash is allowed to be exchanged for food stamp purchases.
Jones, who prosecutes food stamp fraud cases in South Carolina, said this particular instance of food stamp fraud took place between March 2014 to 2016.
He added that the store owners trafficked benefits and exchanged food stamps for cash while the food stamp recipients used their EBT cards to buy prohibited items such as hot food, beer, and cigarettes or accepted cash back.
Food stamp fraud schemes are nothing new in this country.
In May, a Baltimore man who illegally trafficked food stamps received a four-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay back $3.7 million to the U.S. government.