2 women sentenced for committing $1.2M in food stamp fraud following ICE HSI, federal partner investigation
BROWSNVILLE, Texas — Two women sentenced Wednesday following their convictions of conspiracy and committing $1.2 million in food stamp fraud following a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) investigation worked jointly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General (USDA OIG)
Ana Rioja, 51, of Brownsville and Maria Consuelo de Ureno, 55, a legal permanent resident living in Brownsville were sentenced March 9 by U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera Jr. Judge Olvera sentenced Rioja to 30 months in federal prison to be followed by one year of supervised release; while Ureno was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison to be followed by a term of three years of supervised release. Ureno could face the loss of her legal status in the United States. Upon completing her prison sentence, she will be placed in removal proceedings.
In handing down the prison terms, Judge Olvera ordered Rioja and Ureno to pay $975,401 and $1,284,282.15 in restitution, respectively. Both pleaded guilty May 12, 2021, to conspiring to commit and committing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud.
According to court documents, 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 remains in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility. Rioja was permitted to remain on bond and voluntarily surrender at a date to be determined in the near future.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ana C. Cano and Jose A. Esquivel, Southern District of Texas, prosecuted the case.
HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.