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Monday, July 22, 2024

LIBERIAN MAN SENTENCED TO 20 YEARS FOR STEALING $2.6M IN SNAP BENEFITS FROM NEEDY

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A Liberian man was sentenced yesterday to 20 years in federal prison for stealing $2.6 million in SNAP benefits from needy and disabled beneficiaries, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton.

James Peabody, 34, pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman, who called the crime “one of the most disturbing schemes” he’d seen during his time on the bench.

“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is often the only way low-income Americans can afford to feed their families. I can only imagine the devastation these victims felt at the cash register when they attempted to pay for their groceries and discovered their accounts had been emptied,” said U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton. “These defendants callously preyed on the needy, disabled, and elderly. My heart breaks for them.”

“The defendant and their co-conspirators exploited a program designed to aid low-income families. They stole directly from thousands of victims that needed those funds to purchase food and other necessary household items,” said FBI Dallas Special Agent in Charge Chad Yarbrough. “The FBI and our partners worked together to hold these individuals accountable for stealing millions of dollars from the most vulnerable citizens in our community. We will not tolerate anyone that uses a federal program to enrich themselves at the expense of families who truly need and depend on the benefits.”

According to plea papers, the defendant admitted to defrauding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps).

In furtherance of the scheme, Mr. Peabody and two coconspirators, Saybah Keihn, 48, and Margretta Jabbeh, 43, opened several African food stores. They applied for, and received, SNAP merchant privileges.

They then used EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards programmed with stolen SNAP account information – illegally obtained by placing so-called “skimming” devices on point-of-sale terminals in stores throughout the United States – and used them to  “purchase” groceries from their own stores.

With each swipe of the card, the defendants falsely represented to the USDA that actual SNAP beneficiaries were using benefits to purchase approved grocery items.  In reality, the beneficiaries were not present in the stores at the time of the transaction and no groceries were actually purchased.

As a result of the scheme, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which administrates SNAP) deposited more than $2.6 million in bank accounts associated with their stores. When the beneficiaries whose accounts had been stolen attempted to use their SNAP benefits to purchase food, they learned there was no money in their accounts.

For Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, several victims submitted statements revealing that that they were forced to rely on food banks, while one stated she resorted to eating “out of dumpsters.”

Another victim thanked the FBI “for investigating my case when no one else seemed to care.”

Mr. Keihn and Ms. Jabbeh both previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and were sentenced to 108 and 129 months in federal prison, respectively.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office – Fort Worth Resident Agency and the USDA Office of Inspector General conducted the investigation with help from the Bedford Police Department, the Blue Mound Police Department, the Euless Police Department, and the North Richland Hills Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Larson prosecuted the case. Source: www.justice.gov

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