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04/30/2013

HSI arrests NM couple charged in connection with food stamp cash-back scheme

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A husband and wife, local business owners who were allegedly using food stamp cards fraudulently, were in federal court Monday following their arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

HSI special agents arrested Anna Montaño-Salas, 43, and her husband Miguel Salas, 39, April 25. At their preliminary hearings April 29, a federal judge ordered that Salas remain in custody without bond pending trial. Montaño-Salas was released on bond.

According to an indictment handed up April 24, the couple is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and fraud against the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Fund, commonly referred to as food stamps. Between April and December 2012, the couple conspired with each other and other individuals for their personal gain.

Montaño-Salas owned and operated the Valencia Trading Post, a grocery store in Farmington, N.M. The business was authorized to accept payments for groceries from customers using an electronic benefit transfer card issued under the authority of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008.

Montaño-Salas and Salas were allegedly involved in a cash-back scheme involving the use of food stamp electronic benefit transaction cards, or EBT cards. The couple conspired with food stamp card holders to redeem cash back from grocery transactions, which is illegal.

For example, they entered into a false transaction for a food purchase, and gave half the amount entered to the cardholder in cash. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in turn automatically deposited the entire amount into Montaño-Salas' business account, according to court documents.

Salas, a citizen of Mexico, was living illegally in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, New Mexico Human Services Department Office of Inspector General and Region II Task Force also participated in this investigation.

All criminal defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.