Former Merced County Store Manager Sentenced for Conspiracy to Defraud Government Benefits Program
FRESNO, Calif. — Suzy Vang Lo, 41, formerly of Merced, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill to 21 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the United States by unlawfully purchasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from recipients in exchange for cash, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
Suzy Vang Lo and her husband, Michael Chu Lo, pleaded guilty to the scheme in March 2018. According to court documents, Suzy Vang Lo was the manager of LV Market in Winton. Her husband performed many employee functions at the store even though he was not officially employed at the store. Suzy Vang Lo conspired with her husband to give SNAP recipients cash in exchange for swiping their benefit cards. When the defendants exchanged SNAP benefits for cash, it caused the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to wire sums of money into an account that Suzy Vang Lo controlled.
Special Agent-in-Charge Lori Chan, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Office of Inspector General (OIG), Western Region, stated: “The USDA OIG has the responsibility for protecting the integrity of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Protecting the integrity of SNAP is a major investigative priority for OIG. OIG conducts investigations in each region of the United States to deter and uncover criminal activity that undermines important USDA nutrition programs. Vendors who engage in SNAP fraud exploit the program’s needy beneficiaries and misuse the substantial funding that taxpayers provide. The OIG at USDA works to ensure SNAP funds are used for their intended purpose, feeding families, not for the enrichment of criminal enterprises.”
The USDA, through its Food and Nutrition Service, administers SNAP, a food assistance program designed to help low-income individuals and families purchase food. In California, the Food and Nutrition Service authorizes retail food stores to accept SNAP benefits for eligible food items from authorized recipients via the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. Through EBT, the funds provided by SNAP and other state benefits programs are loaded onto the benefit recipients’ EBT debit cards. When a recipient wishes to use SNAP benefits to purchase eligible food items at a participating store, the store or customer swipes the recipient’s EBT card, and the recipient enters a Personal Identification Number (PIN). The SNAP dollar amount is immediately deducted from the customer’s SNAP account and is credited dollar-for-dollar to the retailer’s bank account.
When a retailer is authorized to participate in SNAP, it is informed that it may accept SNAP benefits only in exchange for eligible food items, and it must acknowledge in writing that trading cash for SNAP benefits is illegal.
In this case, for approximately three and a half years, the defendants swiped SNAP beneficiaries’ EBT cards and give them cash in the approximate amount of 69 cents per dollar of SNAP benefits. Michael Chu Lo kept notes at the cash registers to warn customers to remain silent during the transactions to avoid detection, and he attempted to hide large transactions by swiping EBT cards multiple times.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Megan A. S. Richards and Jeffrey A. Spivak are prosecuting the case.
Co-defendant Michael Lo is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25, 2018.