Two sentenced for illegally obtaining nearly 50 tons of cheese and more

Published 7:03 am Thursday, March 10, 2022

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Two women have been sent to prison following their convictions of conspiracy and committing $1.2 million in food stamp fraud, announced U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery.

Ana Rioja, 51, Brownsville, and Maria Consuelo de Ureno, a legal permanent resident of Brownsville, 55, pleaded guilty May 12, 2021, to conspiring to commit and committing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud.

Today, U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera Jr. handed Rioja a 30-month term of imprisonment to be immediately followed by one year of supervised release. Ureno received 37 months followed by a three-year-term of supervised release. Ureno could also face loss of her legal status in the United States and removal proceedings following her release from prison. In handing down the prison terms, Judge Olvera ordered Rioja and Ureno to pay $975,401 and $1,284,282.15 in restitution, respectively.

Beginning in February 2016, the investigation revealed Ureno, Rioja and other co-conspirators exchanged SNAP benefits for cash by using a point of sale device at a local meat market Rioja owned. Additionally, authorities discovered Ureno and co-conspirators conducted fraudulent transactions at Sam’s Wholesale Club.

The investigation discovered 715 fraudulent transactions that were linked to 83 unique SNAP benefit recipients which conspirators redeemed for cash or food. Ureno’s fraudulent purchases totaled to approximately 49.1 tons of American cheese slices, 22.3 tons of pinto beans, 1.6 tons of Folgers coffee, 1.4 tons of instant mashed potatoes and over 5,000 gallons of mayonnaise which she would sell to a partner and transport to Mexico.

Between September 2014 and August 2019, both Rioja and Ureno conducted approximately $1.2 million in fraudulent transactions.

Ureno has been and will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future. Rioja was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender at a date to be determined in the near future.

Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ana C. Cano and Jose A. Esquivel prosecuted the case.