A husband and wife who own a West Baltimore grocery store face prison sentences of up to 20 years after pleading guilty in federal court recently to charges of food stamp fraud.

On Dec. 3, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein announced that Asmara Cases, 50, and his wife Fanta Keita, 45, pleaded guilty to operating a scheme to illegally exchange food stamps from patrons for cash.

“Taxpayers fund the food stamp program to put food on the tables of needy recipients, not to put money in the pockets of greedy criminals,” Rosenstein said during a Sept. 17 news conference in which he named Cisse and Keita as part of a group of nine Baltimore retailers indicted on food stamp fraud.

Between Nov. 1, 2010 and May 2013, according to court documents, Cisse and Keita said they exchanged food stamps for cash at Simbo Food Mart in the 2100 block of West Pratt Street.

According to the indictment in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, the couple kept up to 50 percent of the benefits for themselves, using the proceeds to pay rent and other bills.

Prosecutors said the couple cleared more than $600,000 in payments for purchases that never took place.

“When the program operates in a fraudulent way, as it did here all the money winds up in the pocket of the retailer and of the beneficiary,” said Rosenstein.

Cisse has agreed to a 27-month prison sentence. Keita is to be sentenced in March 2014.

Blair Adams

AFRO Staff Writer