In U.S. James Peabody, A Liberian Sentenced To 20 Years For $2.6 Million SNAP Benefit Fraud Scheme

In a federal court hearing on Tuesday, James Peabody, a Liberian man, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for orchestrating a scheme that stole $2.6 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from needy and disabled beneficiaries. U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Leigha Simonton announced the sentence, highlighting the severity of the crime.

Peabody, 34, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in August. U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman presided over the sentencing, describing the crime as “one of the most disturbing schemes” he had encountered.

The scheme involved Peabody and two accomplices, Saybah Keihn, 48, and Margretta Jabbeh, 43, who opened multiple African food stores. They obtained SNAP merchant privileges and utilized stolen SNAP account information, acquired through skimming devices placed on point-of-sale terminals in various stores across the U.S.

Using electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards programmed with stolen information, the trio made fraudulent purchases at their own stores, falsely representing to the USDA that legitimate SNAP beneficiaries were buying groceries. In reality, no groceries were purchased, and the beneficiaries’ accounts were emptied.

As a result of their actions, the USDA unknowingly deposited over $2.6 million into the stores’ bank accounts. When victims attempted to use their SNAP benefits, they discovered their accounts had been drained, forcing some to resort to food banks or even dumpster diving for sustenance.

Peabody’s co-conspirators, Keihn and Jabbeh, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They received sentences of 108 and 129 months in federal prison, respectively.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI Dallas Field Office – Fort Worth Resident Agency and the USDA Office of Inspector General, with assistance from the Bedford Police Department, the Blue Mound Police Department, the Euless Police Department, and the North Richland Hills Police Department.

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