Two store owners in Tacoma, Washington, have been charged for allegedly carrying out $200,000 worth of food stamp fraud over 18 months.
Ibeth Cano, 53, and Guillermina Coronado Miranda, 44, were charged Friday in Pierce County Superior Court and are scheduled to be arraigned September 8, the News Tribune reported.
Cano was charged with leading organized crime, first-degree theft, unlawful trafficking in food stamps, and three counts of witness tampering.
Miranda was charged with unlawful trafficking in food stamps and first-degree theft.
Investigators from the state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) noticed some red flags in the way the pair conducted business at their convenience store, Carniceria Apatzingan, in Tacoma in July 2015.
The convenience store had multiple EBT card transactions of $1,000 or more on the books and “transactions staggered within a 24-hour period that nearly drained accounts within days of them receiving deposits.”
People who reported to DSHS that they were homeless reportedly conducted 25 percent of the transactions, with many of those transactions ending in even dollar amounts.
Investigators also found that two neighboring convenience stores reported EBT transactions with drastically different amounts and at a much different frequency.
DSHS investigators determined that the store might be engaging in food stamp fraud and looped the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department in on the investigation in June 2016.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) shut down the convenience store’s listing with the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service of participating providers two months later but found that Carniceria Apatzingan already removed its listing. The sheriff’s office ended their investigation.
The sheriff’s office reopened the investigation after noticing that another store Cano and Miranda owned, Apatzingan Market, operated in Carniceria Apatzingan’s former location and recorded odd EBT transactions similar to the former store.
After investigators were issued a search warrant for the store on December 20, they interviewed Cano and Miranda, who both denied that any food stamp trafficking took place.
The only way investigators were able to make headway on the case was through interviewing seven of the 39 people who allegedly made fraudulent transactions at Apatzingan Market.
USDA investigators say the fraud cost taxpayers an estimated $215,000 between July 2015 and December 2016.
Engaging in food stamp fraud comes with consequences for those convicted of the crime. A Kentucky store manager was sentenced to 66 months in prison this month for engaging in $409,000 worth of food stamp fraud.
Seven South Carolina women, who received benefits from a $5 million food stamp fraud scheme, pleaded guilty in July to cheating the government out of $20,000. The store owners, in that case, are facing up to five years behind bars.