Scam on Aisle 2

Cropped shot of a woman holding a basket while shopping at a grocery store

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program) is designed to end hunger among Americans with limited means. SNAP provides financial benefits via Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, to purchase only food at authorized stores (Unless the grocery is running special on SNAP fraud).

Sin Y Sit and his wife Qiao Jiang, who owned Mei A. Asian Grocery in McKeesport, Penn., began letting customers illegally exchange SNAP credits for cash in March 2014—paying the recipients fifty cents on the dollar. Sit and Jiang also let customers buy tobacco. (Perfect! Using taxpayer money intended for nutrition to buy a product that undermines rather than supports health.) Then, there were other ineligible items they allowed their customers to purchase using their SNAP EBT funds.

Sit compounded the fraud by withdrawing money the USDA deposited in the store’s account from the fraudulent EBT transactions, using the cash to pay more customers for their food stamp benefits. Before the scheme was halted in May 2017, the grocery owners took in between $250,000 and $550,000 in fraudulent funds. (That’s no small potatoes.)

In October 2020, Sit pleaded guilty to charges of Conspiracy, Food Stamp Fraud, and Money Laundering Conspiracy, which could have landed him up to 45 years in prison, a fine of $750,000, or both. In April 2021, he was sentenced to 27 months in prison, followed by two years of probation. He was also ordered to pay $351,439 in restitution.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, “McKeesport Grocery Store Owner Sentenced to Prison for Food Stamp Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy,” dated April 29, 2021.

PITTSBURGH, PA – A resident of Glassport, PA, has been sentenced in federal court to 27 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by a two-year term of supervised release, on his conviction of Conspiracy, Food Stamp Fraud, and Money Laundering Conspiracy, Acting United States Attorney Stephen R. Kaufman announced today.

United States District Judge William S. Stickman imposed the sentence on Sin Y Sit, 46, of 502 Marie Street, Glassport, PA 15045.

Additional information is from a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, “Owner of McKeesport Asian Grocery Pleads Guilty to Food Stamp Fraud and Money Laundering Conspiracy,” dated October 6, 2020.

Additional information is from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, “McKeesport grocery store owner sentenced to prison for fraud,” dated April 29, 2021.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.