CAMDEN, NJ — Luciano Estevez of Camden on Wednesday admitted to his role in using fraudulently procured electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards to scheme the government out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito said Estevez, 50, pleaded guilty by teleconference before U.S. District Judge Renee Marie Bumb.
Estevez allegedly acquired an EBT terminal registered at a superstore in Philadelphia to set up at a small grocery store in Camden.
The terminal, which grossed approximately $110,000 in SNAP funds, was reportedly not registered as a lawful Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) merchant in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA)
He has been charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the US and one count of defrauding the USDA.
EBT cards are issued to recipients of SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamps Program.
In August 2019, Estevez was charged with participating in the conspiracy and defrauding SNAP along with Jose Garcia, 52, of Camden; Octavio Rodriguez, 51, of Pennsauken; and Juan Melo, 56, of Woodlynne.
“Estevez, Rodriguez, Garcia, Melo, and others allegedly targeted low-income individuals who possessed or had access to EBT cards, and unlawfully purchased the cards from these individuals in exchange for cash and controlled substances,” according to court statements and documents filed in the case.
According to Carpenito, the defendants in the case also used the “unlawfully” acquired EBT cards to purchase bulk goods and food items.
“These goods and food items were then resold in small convenience and grocery stores owned or affiliated with the defendants or their associates, resulting in a profit for the defendants,” officials said.
Roughly $150,000 in government funds was misappropriated in the process, authorities said.
Estevez faces as many as 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the “gross gain or loss from the offense.” He will be sentenced Sept. 11.