December 8, 2017

Worcester shop pleads guilty to $282K in food-stamp fraud

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Esther's Fashion Paradise, at 872A Main St. in Worcester, illegally exchanged food-stamp benefits for cash.

Esther's Fashion Paradise, a store in Main South in Worcester, illegally took food-stamp benefits in exchange for cash, its owner acknowledged in federal court Wednesday.

Esther Acquaye, a 31-year-old Worcester resident, pleaded guilty to SNAP fraud, trafficking in counterfeit goods, and conspiracy to acquire, possess and redeem SNAP benefits in an unauthorized matter, and to convert public money. The plea was announced Thursday by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston.

Acquaye made an estimated $282,000 in illegal transactions on several occasions between November 2013 and April 2016. Acquaye accepted EBT, or electronic benefits transfer, cards from recipients of SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more often known as food stamps -- benefits, in exchange for cash.

Acquaye passed the EBT cards through a point-of-sale register, transferring the food stamps to her business, and then provided less than the full value of the food stamps back to the recipient, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

On at least four occasions between November 2015 and March 2016, she also accepted an EBT card from an undercover investigator as payment for counterfeit retail goods. Acquaye sold the investigator two counterfeit Michael Kors purses, one counterfeit Gucci purse, one counterfeit The North Face jacket, and one counterfeit Michael Kors wallet.

Food-stamp fraud carries the most potential prison time of the charges Acquaye pleaded guilty to, with sentencing of up to 20 years.

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