Canarsie store owner pleads guilty to exchanging millions in food stamp benefits for cash
A Canarsie supermarket owner pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) by illegally exchanging over a million dollars of food stamp benefits for cash for over two years.
“I stole from the USDA and the Food and Nutrition Service,” Eduardo Leonardo said slowly in Spanish through a translator in Brooklyn Federal Court. “It was an exchange of…benefits for cash.”
Leonardo, 57, rubbed his face red after he admitted to committing “food stamp” fraud between Oct. 2015 and March 2017 by giving customers cash in exchange for running their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards for a higher amount, which the federal government would later reimburse.
In one instance, an undercover witness from the USDA went into Super Economic and picked up a jar of peanut butter and jelly and crackers, totaling $5.48. The witness then asked Leonardo to exchange benefits for $200 cash and Leonardo charged an undercover EBT card $287.89 and gave the witness $200 in cash, making a $82.41 profit.
The USDA lost a total of $1,116,924.27 in the transactions.
The scammer has run his store, Super Economic One Way Supermarket out of 104-21 Glenwood Road in Canarsie since Dec. 2011. It became a registered SNAP business on May 25, 2012.
“Specifically I gave a discounted rate in cash in exchange for them [customers] allowing me to ring up the full amount,” Leonardo said to Judge Ann Donnelly.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) previously called the “food stamp program,” uses federal tax dollars to aid low-income households in buying affordable and nutritious food. EBT cards are used like debit cards, to swipe at special terminals in retail food stores to use the benefits in exchange for food.
Between Nov. 2015 and Jan. 2017, Super Economic conducted more than 57,000 SNAP transactions totaling more than $1.5 million, according to court documents.
About 8 transactions were made for $50 or more, an amount that USDA officials say is high for a store that size, which would normally conduct $15 average transactions.
Leonardo is set to be sentenced on Oct. 31 and could face a maximum five years in prison.
Leonardo and his lawyer, Raoul Zaltzberg did not wish to comment.