Two women have been jailed for illegally buying an obscene amount of cheese, new court documents have revealed.
Ana Rioja, 51, and Maria Consuelo de Ureno, 55, from Brownsville, Texas, were sentenced after pleaded guilty to charges of food stamp fraud after using the benefits systems to obtain more than $1.2 million worth of cheese, beans, coffee and mashed potatoes, which was then sold and transported across the border to Mexico.
Over the course of almost five years, the pair exchanged SNAP food stamps linked to almost a hundred different people for cash or food at a local meat market owned by Rioja called Border Meats, carrying out at least 715 fraudulent transactions.
SNAP food stamps are given to low income families and can be used to pay for eligible food at specific stores.
The purchases amounted to 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, according to a news release from the US Department of Justice.
Rioja and de Ureno worked alongside co-conspirators to execute the fraud.
The scam was uncovered following a years-long investigation launched in September 2016 by Homeland Security Investigations and the Department of Agriculture — Office of Inspector General.
Following their respective arrests, both Rioja and de Ureno pleaded guilty to the charges against them of conspiring to commit and committing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud in May of last year.
In a sentencing hearing last week, Rioja was sentenced to 30 months in prison with one year supervised release, with de Ureno handed a 37 month sentence with three years of supervised release.
In addition, Rioja and de Ureno were ordered to pay $975,401 and $1,284,282.15.
De Ureno will remain in custody, and it set to be transferred to a US Bureau of Prisons facility to serve her sentence.
Rioja has been remanded on bail and is set to surrender to jail at a date yet to be determined.
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