Group accused of defrauding SNAP benefits

BROWNSVILLE — Five individuals have been charged in a nutrition assistance fraud case surrounding Border Meats, a wholesale and retail meat market in Brownsville, according to authorities.

It’s alleged that three members of the group exchanged Lone Star Card Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP benefits for discounted amounts of cash.

Ana Rioja was listed in court documents as the owner of the market. According to an indictment handed down on Oct. 15, co-defendant Luz Alfredo Perez-Elizarraras was a Mexican national employed by Border Meats who was issued a border crossing card for work.

Additionally, the indictment lists husband and wife Maria Del Consuelo Ureno and Geraro Ureno, both legal permanent residents. Their daughter, Genesis Ureno, was listed as the fifth defendant.

According to the indictment, Rioja submitted form FNS-252 to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in August 2005.

The document alleged that Maria and Genesis Ureno, alongside Rioja, exchanged Lone Star Card SNAP benefits for discounted amounts of cash. Maria and Rioja were accused of retaining 33 percent of the dollar amount used in the transactions in exchange for reduced amounts of cash.

Perez-Elizarraraz is accused alongside the three of using the Border Meats Point of Sale device to process fraudulent SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer transactions.

Additionally, the four defendants are accused of using the proceeds generated by the transactions to “further their unlawful activities by concealing the source, origin, nature, ownership, and control of the proceeds.”

Gerardo Ureno was accused alongside his wife of presenting SNAP benefits belonging to others as payment for goods at Sam’s Club on Alton Gloor Boulevard.

A detailed list of events that took place between Nov. 9, 2017 and Aug. 14, 2018 describe transactions in which undercover agents allegedly were given a discounted amount of cash in exchange for SNAP benefits.

One such incident that took place on Dec. 17, 2017 involved a transaction in which a customer paid $300.74 in SNAP assistance in exchange for $200 in cash. The same day, an undercover agent paid $225.69 in SNAP benefits in exchange for $150.

Payouts to customers included in the document ranged from $65 to transactions totaling $850.

In addition, Maria Ureno was accused of using SNAP benefits that belonged to others for transactions at Sam’s Club ranging from a total of $971 to $1107.26.

The defendants were arraigned between Oct. 29 and Oct. 31. On Tuesday, the case was officially certified as complex by U.S. District Judge Rolando Olvera, Jr. during a pre-trial conference.

Court records showed that Perez-Elizarraraz and Maria Ureno were remanded to the custody of a United States Marshal following the hearing. Rioja and Genesis Ureno were not in custody, having previously posted bond. Gerardo Ureno was granted a bond hearing for later this month.