TRENTON – A former grocery store owner was sentenced to prison today for his role in a scheme to steal more than $1 million from the federally funded Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program using fraudulent vouchers issued by clerks for the Newark WIC program, Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa announced.
Martin Martinez, 51, of Newark, former owner of Duran Stop 1 on Bergen Street in Newark, was sentenced to six years in prison, including two years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle in Essex County. He was also ordered to pay $158,490 in restitution to the New Jersey WIC program. Martinez pleaded guilty on May 15 to first-degree money laundering. He admitted that he obtained fraudulent vouchers from a middleman and redeemed them for $158,490 in WIC funds by depositing them into his bank account without providing any food items to WIC participants. Deputy Attorney General Michael Monahan, Deputy Chief of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau, took the guilty plea and handled the sentencing.
Martinez was also sentenced today in two additional cases prosecuted by the Division of Criminal Justice. He pleaded guilty on March 15 to second-degree conspiracy for conspiring with a clerk at the East Orange Motor Vehicle Agency to broker illegal sales of New Jersey driver’s licenses to individuals without the required identification documents. On that charge, Petrolle sentenced him to a four-year prison term, which will run concurrently with the six-year sentence for money laundering. In addition, he pleaded guilty on March 15 to a third-degree charge of stealing from the U.S. government for fraudulently cashing $25,043 in stolen income tax refund checks. He received a concurrent three-year sentence on that charge and must pay full restitution to the U.S. Treasury. Those cases were prosecuted by Deputy Attorney General Marysol Rosero.
“Offenders who engage in fraud often turn up in multiple criminal conspiracies,” said Chiesa. “This defendant was involved in benefits fraud, document fraud and tax fraud, but we uncovered all of his schemes, thanks to the outstanding work of our detectives, attorneys and law enforcement partners. He now faces a significant prison sentence that reflects the breadth of his fraud.”
“Fighting corruption and fraud are top priorities for the Division of Criminal Justice,” said Director Stephen J. Taylor. “This man repeatedly conspired with others, including public employees, to defraud the government.”
The money laundering charge related to the WIC program was contained in a Nov. 10, 2011 state grand jury indictment which charged Martinez and 13 other grocery store owners and employees. An investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau revealed that between July 2004 and April 2007, three former clerks employed by the Newark WIC Program conspired to issue more than $1 million in fake vouchers. The clerks – a man and two women – have pleaded guilty in the state’s investigation and face lengthy state prison sentences. The fake vouchers were sold to middlemen, who resold them to grocery store owners. The store owners allegedly collected WIC funds without providing any food products to WIC participants.
The investigation began when the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services and the Newark Department of Health and Human Services alerted the Division of Criminal Justice to suspected thefts of vouchers from the Newark WIC Program.
WIC is a federally funded program, administered by the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, that provides low-income women who are pregnant or breast feeding and guardians of children up to age 5 with vouchers to purchase nutritional necessities, including baby formula, milk, orange juice and cereal. The vouchers can be redeemed at any store approved as a WIC vendor for food items specifically listed on the voucher. Once the voucher is redeemed, the vendor completes the voucher by filling in the cost of the product supplied. The Newark WIC Program is one of 18 WIC programs in New Jersey.
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