LOS ANGELES – The operator of a Palmdale convenience store pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges stemming from an alleged $6 million food stamp scam.
Yessica Raquel Garay, 37, is charged along with two other convenience store operators, Maria Teresa Ramirez, 37, and Ramirez’s mother, Maria Magdalena Salgado, 54, who each pleaded not guilty at an earlier court hearing.
The three women are charged with one count each of conspiracy to defraud another of property and misappropriation of public funds, along with allegations of taking more than $500,000 through fraud and embezzlement.
Garay — whom prosecutors say worked for Ramirez at her Palmdale store before taking over the business — also is charged with two counts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud.
Ramirez — the owner of stores in Palmdale and the unincorporated community of Littlerock, additionally is charged with eight counts of SNAP fraud, while her mother is charged with seven counts of SNAP fraud.
The three women are accused of illegally exchanging SNAP benefits — commonly known as food stamps — for cash, according to Deputy District Attorney Michael Fern. They allegedly charged fictitious SNAP-eligible purchases to the benefit cards and collected fees for the transactions.
Fourteen other people have been charged for allegedly using their SNAP cards to get cash at the stores.
If convicted as charged, Ramirez, Salgado and Garay could face up to nine years in state prison, while the other 14 defendants could face a maximum of three years in county jail, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
The charges stemmed from an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, named as a victim in the criminal complaint.
Previous related stories: