Three Palmdale women who operated convenience stores in the Antelope Valley were arrested Tuesday on charges stemming from a $6 million food stamp scam, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office announced.
Maria Teresa Ramirez, the 37-year-old owner of stores in Palmdale and the unincorporated community of Littlerock, is charged with eight counts of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) fraud.
Her 54-year-old mother, Maria Magdalena Salgado, is facing seven counts of SNAP fraud involving a convenience store she owned in Palmdale, while Yessica Raquel Garay, 37, is facing two counts. Authorities say Garay worked for Ramirez at her Palmdale store before taking over the business.
The three are also charged with one count each of conspiracy to defraud another of property and misappropriation of public funds, along with allegations of taking more than $500,000 through fraud and embezzlement.
Ramirez, Salgado and Garay are accused of illegally exchanging SNAP benefits -- commonly known as food stamps -- for cash, according to Deputy District Attorney Michael Fern. They allegedly charged fictitious SNAP-eligible purchases to the benefit cards and collected fees for the transactions.
Fourteen other people have been charged for allegedly using their SNAP cards to get cash at the stores.
If convicted as charged, Ramirez, Salgado and Garay could face up to nine years in state prison, while the other 14 defendants could face a maximum of three years in county jail, according to the District Attorney's Office.
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The charges stemmed from an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is named as a victim in the criminal complaint.