Three women who ran stores in Palmdale and Littlerock were arrested in the Santa Clarita Valley on Tuesday on suspicion of fraud in connection with an alleged $6 million “food stamps” scam.
The three were among 17 people charged in a food-stamps-for-cash scam that allegedly defrauded the federal government, Paul Eakins, spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, announced in a news release issued Tuesday.
D.A. investigators booked the three women at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station on Tuesday morning.
“They simply used our jail to book their suspects,” said Lt. Ignacio Somoano, who heads up the SCV Sheriff’s Station Detective Station.
A 54-year-old woman and two others aged 37 were charged with multiple counts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program fraud, Eakins said.
The trio also are charged with one count each of conspiracy to defraud another of property and misappropriation of public funds.
The charges include allegations of taking more than $500,000 through fraud and embezzlement.
The 14 other people charged in the criminal complaint allegedly used their SNAP cards to receive cash at the stores.
Arraignment has not yet been scheduled for any of the 17 defendants.
From 2011-17, the three suspects allegedly exchanged SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, for cash, said Deputy District Attorney Michael Fern of the Cyber Crime Division.
They allegedly charged fictitious SNAP-eligible purchases to the benefit cards and collected fees for the transactions.
The suspects, all Palmdale residents, owned stores in Palmdale and in the unincorporated community of Littlerock.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is named as a victim in the criminal complaint, carried out an investigation of these SNAP-authorized stores and determined their owners had engaged in SNAP fraud.
The three store operators and most of the other defendants were arrested Tuesday by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation.
If convicted as charged, the three women face a possible maximum sentence of nine years in state prison. The other defendants face up to three years in county jail.
The prosecutor is recommending bail be set at $275,000 for the women and at $20,000 for each of the other defendants.
The case remains under investigation by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation.