Feds Charge Worcester Shop Owner With Accepting Food Stamps For Fake Designer Merch

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/08/25/feds-charge-worcester-shop-owner-with-accepting-food-stamps-for-fake-designer-merch/

File this one under what former Democratic Governor Deval Patrick would call an example of “anecdotal evidence.”

Federal prosecutors on Thursday threw the legal hammer down on a Worcester store, charging the shop owner of Esther’s Fashion Paradise with selling food stamps for cash and accepting payment in the form of electronic benefit transfer cards from customers buying knock-off imitation Gucci bags and North Face apparel.

As a result of her alleged dealings, Esther Acquaye is being charged not only with conspiracy to use taxpayer-funded food stamp benefits “in an unauthorized manner” and committing food stamp fraud, but also with trafficking counterfeit goods.

Records show that Acquaye began completing United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) transactions at Esther’s Fashion in November 2013, and after a little more than two years, caught the attention of undercover federal investigators who claim she accepted EBT cards from them in exchange for the purchase of counterfeit goods.

Prosecutors described Esther’s Fashion as seller of “miscellaneous food items, water, soda, and non-food items, such as clothing, jewelry and cosmetic products.”

Court documents indicate that investigators on four separate occasions allegedly used EBT cards to buy “two purses bearing counterfeit Michael Kors marks, one purse bearing counterfeit Gucci marks, and one coat bearing counterfeit The North Face marks.”

Investigators pegged the manufacturer’s suggested retail price at a total of $2,386 for the fake goods.

Additionally, prosecutors allege Acquaye’s business practices involved “purchasing from SNAP recipients SNAP benefits for cash at a discounted face value of approximately 50 cents for every SNAP dollar benefit” while “receiving the full face value of the SNAP benefits fraudulently obtained, by means of electronic deposit from the USDA into the SNAP account.”

According to prosecutors, Acquaye between November 2013 and April 19, 2016 “caused approximately $282,541.76 in fraudulent EBT transactions and SNAP benefits to be transacted, resulting in the electronic deposit of $282,541.76 into her SNAP account.”

She is accused of paying half of that sum in the form of cash to SNAP recipients.

Other counterfeit brands on sale at Esther’s Fashion Paradise, prosecutors say, included UGG, Louis Vuitton, True Religion, Seven for All Mankind, Coach, Burberry, Chanel, and Nike.

The items all reportedly featured counterfeit marks “identical to and substantially indistinguishable from genuine marks in use,” while prosecutors noted that “the use of of such marks was to cause confusion, to cause mistakes, and to deceive.”

Accompanying the criminal affidavit filed in federal court was an 11-page outline of a potential plea agreement.

The outline points out that Acquaye is facing a stiff jail sentence. A conspiracy charge carries a five-year term, while a SNAP fraud charge carries a 20-year charge, according to prosecutors.

“Defendant also recognizes that pleading guilty may have consequences with respect to defendant’s immigration status if defendant is not a citizen of the United States,” the outline also states.

Acquaye’s attorney, Blake J. Rubin of Worcester, said that language related to immigration status is “standard language in every plea agreement.”

As for his client’s immigration status, Rubin said he’s “not at liberty to say.”

Rubin did add that Acquaye “fully cooperated with law enforcement from the very beginning” and noted that he has been working with federal prosecutors on a plea agreement.

Read the criminal affidavit:

2017-08-25 USA v Acquaye Charges by Evan on Scribd