Grocery manager charged in $1 million food-stamp fraud

Posted: May 17, 2013

A Camden grocery store manager was arrested Thursday and charged with stealing more than $1 million from taxpayers in a food-stamp scheme.

Alexander D. Vargas, 34, allegedly bought food stamps for 50 cents on the dollar and pocketed the other 50 cents after redeeming the food stamps without selling any food, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. It is unlawful to exchange food-stamp benefits for cash.

Vargas managed the former Eddie's Grocery on the 1500 block of Mount Ephraim Avenue in the city's Whitman Park section, officials said.

Vargas allegedly carried out the scheme between February and November of last year, and used the money to buy vehicles and property in his native Dominican Republic, according to a criminal complaint.

Under what is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), recipients are issued a benefits card through which permitted purchases are deducted by an authorized terminal at food stores.

The complaint said that in February 2012, Vargas was added as an authorized cosigner to the bank account into which the store's SNAP redemptions were deposited.

That month, the store collected more than $307,000 in SNAP redemptions, far in excess of the $23,333 a month the store was expected to receive, the complaint said.

Over the 10-month period, the difference between what the store should have redeemed and what it actually collected amounted to more than $2.8 million, officials said.

On five different occasions, a confidential witness and an undercover agent traded $1,359.75 in SNAP benefits for $650 cash, the complaints said.

Officials said such transactions were common at the store.

Vargas is charged with one count of theft of U.S. funds, which is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.


Contact Joseph Gambardello at 856-779-3844 or gambarj@phillynews.com.

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