Victor's Market employee charged with Grand Theft, Welfare Fraud

District Attorney Gregory I). Totten announced today that Eric Gabriel Suarez (DOB 9/6/84) of Oxuard, Cimitrio Ambris Cervantes (D013 5/5168) of Mission Hills, and Fernando Ambris Cervantes (DOB 6/22/66) of Santa Paula were arrested in a multi-agency crackdown on store owners who pay cash to recipients of government food assistance benefits. Suarez and Cimitrio Cervantes have been charged with felony grand theft and welfare fraud. Suarez is also charged with trafficking more than $150,000 of government benefits and stealing more than $200,000. Fernando Cervantes has been charged with misdemeanor welfare fraud. This case was the result of ajoint investigation by the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General, and the United States Secret Service.

CaLFresh and the USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provide nutrition assistance benefits to eligible, low-income individuals and families. It is illegal for a store owner to redeem these food assistance benefits for cash. Trafficking in SNAP and CalFresh benefits occurs when a merchant pays a welfare recipient cash for these government benefits. The operation targeted markets in both Ventura and Fillmore. It is alleged that from October 2010 to February 2013, Eric Suarez trafficked in government benefits while working at Avenue Mini Market in Ventura. It is alleged that beginning in early 2012 to May 2013, Cimitrio and Fernando Cervantes trafficked in government funds by exchanging Electronic Benefit Transfer (ERT) benefits for cash while working at Victor’s Market in Fillmore.

Eric Suarez and Cimitrio Cervantes were released on $10,000 bail and both will be arraigned on October 8, 2013, in courtroom 12 at 9:00 a.m. Fernando Cervantes was released on $5,000 bail and will be arraigned on January 2, 2014, at 8:15 a.m. in courtroom 10.

Misdemeanor welfare fraud charges have also been flied against 25 additional defendants fbr illegally selling their food assistance benefits for cash, in lieu of arrests, letters have been sent directing those defendants to appear on October 22, 23, and 24, 2013. for arraignment. Additional misdemeanor charges will be filed in near future against other individuals for similar conduct.