A federal judge on Friday sentenced the former co-owner of a Brownsville Road grocery store to probation for food stamp fraud and ordered him to pay $56,000 in restitution along with a $2,000 fine.
U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak imposed a term of 30 months on Meg Gurung, 36, a native of Bhutan who with his brother Ago Gurung owned Gurung Brothers LLC.
The pair had pleaded guilty in November after waiving grand jury indictment.
From June 2019 through February 2021, the brothers exchanged food stamps for ineligible, non-food items and cash at their store in violation of U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations.
The fraud was revealed during multiple undercover visits to the store, prosecutors said, during which agents saw the brothers violating program rules.
In one example from Oct. 20, 2020, Meg allowed a customer to buy ineligible items and then made changes in the register to make it look like the customer had bought approved food. Meg also exchanged Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for cash in violation of the law and told the customer not to tell anyone about what he was doing.
Prosecutors did not request prison but asked for probation for Meg and a restitution order in part to send a message to the public that the food stamp program is being administered properly.
“For the public to believe that their government will spend tax funds wisely to provide food to low-income persons through the program, [the USDA] must be able to obtain truthful compliance from store owners,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Gal-Or. “Respect for the law is lessened if stores participating in the SNAP program and their owners are allowed to flout the USDA’s authority and unlawfully obtain government money.”
She requested that Judge Hornak order him and his brother to pay $56,436 in restitution to the SNAP program.