Store owner pleads guilty to $1M food stamp fraud


Mark Edward Powell, 63, of Empire, pleaded guilty to defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food stamp program of more than $1 million, between April 2009 and August 2011.

According to the plea agreement, Powell owned and operated Santa Fe Discount, a mini-market in Empire that accepted food stamps through the electronic benefits transfer card system.

Contrary to the policy established for participating merchants, Powell would “cash out” EBT cards for cash rather than for eligible food products required under the programs.

Powell required the EBT holders to purchase some over-priced food products and then he would give the remaining dollar amount on the card in cash and keep a percentage for himself.

As a result, $1,001,000 was lost by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Special Agent-in-Charge Lori Chan, United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, Western Region, stated: “The USDA OIG has the responsibility for protecting the integrity of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which is a major investigative priority for OIG. OIG conducts investigations in each region of the U.S. to deter and uncover criminal activity that undermines important USDA nutrition programs. Vendors who engage in SNAP fraud exploit the program’s needy beneficiaries, and misuse the substantial funding that taxpayers provide. The OIG at USDA works to ensure SNAP funds are used for their intended purpose, feeding families, not for the enrichment of criminal enterprises. We would like to thank the US Attorney’s Office and the US Secret Service for their assistance in this investigation and look forward to their continued support in combating SNAP fraud.”

Powell is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii on March 18, 2013.

He faces a maximum statutory penalty of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and mandatory restitution. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory sentencing factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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