Rashella Reed, 41, and two others were convicted of conspiring to defraud the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as the food stamp program, and the Women, Infant and Children Program. According to a Department of Justice news release, Reed was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge William T. Moore Jr. to serve 14 years in prison and three years of supervised release and to pay more than $8 million in restitution.
Sixteen defendants were charged in what authorities called the largest prosecution of its kind in Georgia.
According to the release, the conspirators set up 13 “pretend” grocery stores, which were used as a front to buy more than $8 million in food stamp benefits and WIC vouchers for cash from February 2009 to June 2011.
Authorities said storefronts were in Savannah, Atlanta, Decatur, Macon, Columbus and Augusta.
Reed owned and operated The Baby Spot in Decatur.
An indictment listed the Augusta store as Jack ‘N’ Jill, 2139 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The Augusta store’s CEO, Alvina Markes, pleaded guilty in March 2012 and received nine months in federal prison.
The food stamp and WIC recipients were paid 10 to 60 cents on the dollar for their benefits. The conspirators pocketed the rest.
An April 2012 story in The Augusta Chronicle said the forfeiture claims included cash, plus a 2005 Chevrolet Corvette, a 2003 Ferrari 360 and a 2005 Maserati Quattroporte.
The organization was attempting to expand into Alabama and Tennessee when it was dismantled by federal agents.
“Ms. Reed was college-educated and employed as a teacher,” said Karen Citizen-Wilcox, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General. “However, she found it necessary to take part in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme that offended the sensibilities of the American taxpayer and deprived needy individuals of nutrition.”
Citizen-Wilcox said the conviction and sentence should be an “eye opener” for anyone who thinks these crimes get only a slap on the hand.