Using Groceries for Personal Gain

Shopping cart full of food in the supermarket aisle. High internal view. Horizontal composition

Russel Leroy Dotson, Jr., 63, of Jacksonville, Fla., and his wife, Maria Luisa Dotson, 66, have been sentenced after conspiring to commit wire fraud against the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Dotson couple owned two Asmarina Food Mart locations in Jacksonville. When the stores were first opened, the couple applied to participate in the SNAP program to help supplement the food budget of families in need. (What the Dotson’s really wanted to do was to supplement their cash flow by stealing from families in need.)

After receiving approval from the Food and Nutrition Service to be a SNAP retailer, Asmarina Food Mart employees were trained to conduct fraudulent transactions with SNAP recipients using their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. Employees would complete fraudulent transactions so that SNAP beneficiaries appeared to have purchased eligible food products with their EBT cards, when nothing was actually purchased or purchased items were not eligible. The SNAP beneficiaries would then receive cash back worth half of the transaction value. (The other half went straight into the couple’s pockets.)

Over the course of 27 months, the U.S. was defrauded out of $57,979.10 by Russel and Maria Dotson.

On July 26, 2019, Russel pleaded guilty to SNAP fraud. Maria’s plea of guilt followed on August 7, 2019. Twelve others, many of which were Asmarina Food Mart employees, have pleaded guilty and were sentenced for their part in the scheme. In total, the group must pay $249,829.67 in restitution.

Both Russel and Maria have each been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They must also pay $257,919.10 in restitution and an order of forfeiture for the same amount has been entered against each of them.

Today’s Fraud of the Day comes from a Department of Justice press release, “Husband And Wife Convenience Store Owners Sentenced To Prison And Ordered To Pay Restitution For Fraud Involving SNAP Program,” dated July 14, 2021.

Jacksonville, Florida – U.S. District Judge Maria Morales Howard has sentenced Russell Leroy Dotson, Jr. (63, Jacksonville) and his wife, Maria Luisa Dotson (66, Jacksonville), to 18 months in federal prison each for conspiracy to commit wire fraud involving the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The court also ordered the couple to pay $257,919.10 in restitution and entered an order of forfeiture for the same amount against each of them.

Russell Dotson had pleaded guilty on July 26, 2019, and Maria Dotson had pleaded guilty on August 7, 2019.



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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.