After a jury found him guilty of defrauding the federal food stamp program, an Oklahoma City convenience store owner was sentenced for his crime.
We first wrote about Srinadha Ravi Dirisina, 36, the owner/operator of an Oklahoma City convenience store, after his conviction last fall.
Dirisina was accused of exchanging food stamp benefits for cash and directing employees of the Welcome Mart at 1100 W. Reno Avenue to do the same. Investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Oklahoma Department of Human Services revealed that Dirisina and Welcome Mart clerks were swiping SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) cards in order to transfer funds to the store's account, and paying food stamp holders 50 cents on the dollar.
Abuse of USDA SNAP benefits in this way is a federal crime, because it defrauds a program of the federal government. According to court records, Welcome Mart employees illegally obtained $147,603 from the USDA food stamp program between May 2014 and February 2015--nearly $150,000 in less than a year.
Throughout his trial, and even after his conviction, Dirisina maintained that he did not authorize or direct his employees to pay cash for SNAP benefits. Instead, he says that he became aware that two employees--college students from India--were doing so, but turned a blind eye. He holds that his actions were negligent, rather than criminal.
However, in October, a jury was unconvinced by his claims of innocence, and found him to be the impetus for the fraud. He was convicted of theft of government property. The jury acquitted him of three counts of obstruction of justice, in which he was accused of trying to prevent the clerks from testifying.
Dirisina faced up to 5 years in prison for food stamp fraud. On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton sentenced Dirisina to 13 months in prison and ordered him to pay nearly $150,000 in restitution to the USDA. Dirisina, who has a 3-year-old child and a wife with medical needs, must report to federal prison no later than April 13 to begin his sentence.
After his trial, Dirisina returned the Welcome Mart to its previous owner.