New Jersey Men Accused of $150,000 Cash and Viagra Food Stamp Fraud Ring

Authorities arrested three New Jersey men on Tuesday and were searching for a fourth suspect for allegedly carrying out a food stamp fraud ring where they traded cash and Viagra for food stamp benefits.

Police arrested Luciano Estevez, 50, and Jose Garcia, 52, of Camden, and Juan Melo, 56, of Woodlynne on Tuesday on charges of fraud and conspiracy, the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reported.

The fourth suspect, Octavio Rodriguez, 50, of Pennsauken, is being sought on the same charges.

The ring’s members— which operated from at least two different grocery stores— allegedly traded cash and drugs such as painkillers and Viagra to obtain food stamps from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New Jersey.

Those who allegedly participated in the ring acquired SNAP cards for half their cash value, which allegedly drew people to sell their food stamp benefits for cash at their local grocery store, according to a criminal complaint.

The complaint also claims that the SNAP cards were then used to buy food in bulk before it was resold for a small profit at convenience and grocery stores.

Members of the ring were accused of defrauding the federal government of at least $150,000 between February and July.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from 2019 found that criminals were responsible for trafficking at least $1 billion in food stamp benefits, a steep cost to the taxpayer.

But more often than not food stamp fraudsters get caught in the middle of these schemes, and wind up having to serve prison time or pay back the money they stole from the government.

Recently, a Florida couple pleaded guilty to defrauding the government out of $257,000 in a food stamp fraud scheme they ran at one of their convenience stores.