Trenton, N.J.– An Irvington, New Jersey, man admitted Monday that he stole more than $840,000 from the U.S. government through a scheme to exchange food stamps for cash. The charges resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General.
Miguel Antonio Azcona, aka “Miguel A. Azcona-Peralta,” 38, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper in Trenton federal court to information charging him with one count of theft of government funds.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
Azcona was the owner of New Community Supermarket on Springfield Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. New Community Supermarket was a small grocery that was authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps). Azcona controlled a business bank account for New Community Supermarket to receive the reimbursements for SNAP benefits.
Azcona knew that as a SNAP retailer, he was not allowed to exchange food stamps for cash. Yet from August 2014 through Aug. 11, 2016, Azcona and others, including employees under his supervision, unlawfully redeemed SNAP benefits in exchange for cash rather than food. In return for exchanging SNAP benefits for cash, New Community Supermarket retained a portion of the transaction’s value for Azcona’s benefit.
At his plea hearing, Azcona admitted that his conduct resulted in losses of approximately $840,583.54.
The count of theft of government funds carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense. Sentencing is set for May 3.