– Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa
announced that a grocery store manager pleaded
guilty today for his role in a conspiracy
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.
Cepeda, 36, of Elizabeth, employee/manager
of Los Tiburones on Bergen Street in Newark,
pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering
before Superior Court Judge Michael A. Petrolle
in Essex County. Under the plea agreement,
the state will recommend that Cepeda be
sentenced to five years in state prison,
including 20 months of parole ineligibility.
He will be required to pay restitution of
$71,327 to the WIC program. Deputy Attorney
General Michael Monahan, Deputy Chief of
the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption
Bureau, took the guilty plea. Judge Petrolle
scheduled sentencing for April 25.
charge was contained in a Nov. 10, 2011
state grand jury indictment which charged
14 grocery store owners and employees with
conspiracy and money laundering, both in
the first degree, and other offenses. 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 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.
today, Edwin Rodriguez, 33, of East Orange,
the former owner of Sobrino’s Supermarket
on North Munn Street in East Orange, pleaded
guilty before Judge Petrolle to an accusation
charging him with third-degree money laundering.
The state will recommend that he receive
a term of probation when he is sentenced
on April 18. He must pay $23,713 in restitution.
Feb. 29, another defendant named in the
Nov. 10 indictment, Angel Fernandez, 41,
of Newark, former owner of Eddy’s
Supermarket on Clinton Avenue in Newark,
pleaded guilty to an amended count of third-degree
money laundering. The state will recommend
that he be sentenced to a term of probation,
conditioned upon him serving up to 364 days
in the county jail. He must pay restitution
of $24,349. His sentencing is scheduled
for April 5.
number of other defendants pleaded guilty
prior to that indictment. On Nov. 9, 2011,
Elki Martinez, 27, of Newark, pleaded guilty
to third-degree money laundering for acting
as a middleman who obtained fraudulent vouchers
from one of the WIC clerks and sold them
to store owners. Jose Rivas, 34, of Newark,
owner of Borinquen Plaza Supermarket on
Summer Avenue in Newark and Maple Supermarket
on Maple Avenue in Newark, also pleaded
guilty to third-degree money laundering.
The state will recommend that each man be
sentenced to 364 days in jail and a period
of probation. Both must pay restitution.
Oct. 4, Audrey Walker Bey, 38, of Newark,
a former clerk for the Newark WIC Program,
pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering.
The state will recommend that she be sentenced
to 10 years in state prison, one-third of
which would have to be served without possibility
of parole. She must pay restitution in an
amount to be determined and will be permanently
barred from public employment in the state.
Her sentencing is scheduled for April 19.
was charged on June 9, 2009 in an eight-count
state grand jury indictment, which also
charged Benedicto Bernal, 32, of Newark,
owner of Dreamers Supermarket on 7th Ave.
in Newark, and Elvis Manuel Sanchez-Vasquez,
37, of Elizabeth, a former owner and manager
of Sanchez Supermarket on Springdale Avenue
in East Orange. On Dec. 1, 2009, Bernal
pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering.
Bernal, who was not an authorized WIC vendor,
admitted that he purchased fraudulent vouchers
from Charles Brown, a former senior clerk
for the Newark WIC Program, and resold them
by the stack to WIC-authorized food vendors.
The state will recommend that Bernal be
sentenced to 10 years in state prison, one-third
of which would have to be served without
possibility of parole.
Sept. 23, 2010, Sanchez-Vazquez pleaded
guilty to first-degree money laundering.
Sanchez-Vazquez, an authorized WIC vendor,
admitted that he knowingly purchased fraudulent
WIC vouchers from Bernal and deposited them
in a bank account he controlled in order
to fraudulently collect over $500,000 from
the WIC program. The state will also recommend
that he be sentenced to 10 years in prison,
one-third of which would have to be served
44, of Newark, pleaded guilty to second-degree
official misconduct and was sentenced on
Feb. 23, 2009, to eight years in state prison.
On Feb. 20, 2009, another former senior
clerk in the Newark WIC Program, Wyetta
Judson, 41, of Newark, pleaded guilty to
second-degree official misconduct. The state
will recommend that she be sentenced to
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. Deputy Attorney
General Monahan has prosecuted the defendants
with Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Manis.
The investigation was conducted by Detective
Michael Behar, Sgt. David Salzmann, DAG
Monahan, DAG Manis, Administrative Analyst
Kathleen Ratliff, Sgt. Harry Maronpot, Detective
Scott Donlan, Sgt. James Scott and Detective
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 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.