New Jersey Deli Owner Pleads Guilty to $888,000 Food Stamp Fraud Scheme

Top senators on both sides of the aisle have been firm about their side of the equation: A bill with big changes to SNAP simply can’t garner the 60 votes needed to advance. | AP Photo/Seth Wenig
AP Photo/Seth Wenig

A 25-year-old deli owner in New Jersey pleaded guilty Tuesday to bilking the federal government out of $888,000 in a more than six-year food stamp fraud scheme.

Maria Teresa Venegas, of Newark, pleaded guilty to one count of food stamp fraud for carrying out the scheme at Jenny’s Deli from November 2011 to February 2018, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey announced Tuesday.

Authorities opened an investigation into the deli when they noticed an unusually high volume of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit transactions.

In one instance, Venegas charged $75 to a SNAP recipient’s account even though the customer only purchased $5 worth of items, according to court documents obtained by NJ.com.

Court documents state that Venegas then gave the benefit recipient cash while she pocketed the rest of the money.

An undercover agent investigated the deli, making 20 purchases at the Newark store using SNAP benefits and trading them for cash.

Federal investigators say Venegas stole $888,486.89 over the more than six-year period.

Venegas faces up to 20 years behind bars when she is due back in court for sentencing on January 19. Her father, Manuel Venegas, is also accused of taking part in the scam and has several charges pending against him.

Many convenience store owners have gotten themselves in serious trouble with the federal government for carrying out similar schemes where employees allowed SNAP users to trade their benefits for cash.

A Ghanian national was sentenced in April to eight months in prison for carrying out a $300,000 food stamp fraud scheme, and an Oregon minimart owner was sentenced to two years behind bars for orchestrating a $189,000 food stamp fraud scheme.

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