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Two sentenced to prison for food stamp fraud | U.S. District Court

Magnolia Gin, 52, of Seattle, and Son Hoang Le, 35, of Bellevue, who owned two adjacent businesses in the White Center were sentenced this week to prison terms for food stamp fraud.

Gin and Le were arrested in July 2011 as part of an ongoing investigation of food  stamp trafficking in Western Washington.  Gin was sentenced Monday, March 26, 2012, to

18 months in prison and today Le was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Gin owned Asian

Bubble Tea, and Le owned NW Halal Asian Food Corporation, d/b/a D.P. Northwest Halal &  Asian Food Corporation, LLC, on 17th Avenue SW, Seattle.  The two conspired to  redeem USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for cash.  The  benefits are supposed to be used only for the purchase of food.

At Le’s sentencing hearing today, Chief U.S. District Judge Marsh J. Pechman told him:

“When you commit a fraud like this, you commit a fraud against every taxpayer, everybody who

works hard to help needy people put food on the table… It is important that other shop owners  know and understand that this is wrong and it is not going to be tolerated in our community.”

According to documents in the case, undercover agents took electronic benefits cards into

Asian Bubble Tea on multiple occasions.  GIN would ask the card holder how much money they  wanted, and asked them to provide their personal identification number.  GIN would leave with  the card through the back of the restaurant and return with the cash.  Records showed that the cards in question were being run at D.P. Northwest Halal.  For example, a card would be swiped  for $100, with $60 going to the card holder, and the co-conspirators making a $40 profit.  In one  instance described in the complaint, LE provided cash to an undercover agent using a SNAP  benefit card at his store.  Bank records indicated that LE made multiple cash withdrawals from  the business account that he controlled that received payments under the SNAP program.  In

some instances, customers came directly into LE’s store to redeem their cards for cash, without  using GIN as a go-between.ecords showed an ever increasing amount of SNAP redemptions at D.P. Northwest  Halal, from just over $2,000 in April 2010, to more than $80,000 in May 2011.  In just the first three weeks of June 2011, the store had redeemed more than $100,000 in SNAP benefits.  A

review of state revenue records revealed that in 2010, D.P. Northwest Halal claimed total sales of

$274,611, but federal records show that DP Halal redeemed over $380,000 in SNAP benefits during that same time frame.  In his plea agreement, LE admitted $700,000 in fraud against the food stamp program.

In their sentencing memo, prosecutors noted that LE’s crime helped undermine the program.  LE’s “conduct also hurt the program because it has contributed to the public perception that the program is rife with fraud.  Indeed, many people have advocated ending or

severely restricting the program, as the public has increasingly begun to associate the program with widespread fraud.  This perception of the program hurts the countless unseen people who

use the program for its intended purpose, to put food on the table for the family during hard times,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.

Those who trafficked their food stamps at the Halal Market are also paying a price.

According to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Office of Fraud and Accountability, 69 food stamp recipients who had traded at the market are under review.  So

far 20 people have been disqualified from the program with another 31 cases pending disqualification. The disqualifications of 50 recipients will result in a cost savings of more than

$100,000.

The case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Seattle Police Department, and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Office of Fraud and Accountability.

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