3 SoCal women charged in $6 million food stamps-for-cash scam

Three Southern California women are among 17 people charged in a food stamps-for-cash scam that allegedly defrauded the federal government out of an estimated $6 million, authorities said.

Maria Teresa Ramirez, the 37-year-old owner of convenience stores in Palmdale and the unincorporated community of Littlerock, was charged with eight counts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced this week.

Maria Magdalena Salgado, who is Ramirez's 54-year-old mother and also owned a convenience store in Palmdale, faces seven counts of SNAP fraud.

Yessica Raquel Garay, 37, faces two counts of SNAP fraud. Garay worked for Ramirez at her Palmdale store before taking over the business, authorities said.

The three are also 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, authorities said.

Ramirez, Garay and Salgado are accused of illegally exchanging SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, for cash from 2011 to 2017, according to Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Michael Fern.

The three allegedly charged fake SNAP-eligible purchases to the benefit cards and collected fees for the transactions, authorities said.

All three are residents of Palmdale, authorities said.

The 14 other people charged in the criminal complaint allegedly used their SNAP cards to get cash at the stores.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is named as a victim in the criminal complaint, which conducted an investigation of SNAP authorized stores and determined the owners had engaged in fraud, the district attorney's office said.

Ramirez, Garay and Salgado face a possible maximum sentence of nine years in state prison if convicted as charged. The others face up to three years in county jail.