Wilkinsburg store owners convicted of food stamp fraud
By Brian Bowling
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 12:00 p.m.
The sibling owners of a Wilkinsburg convenience store will spend two years on probation for conspiring to commit wire fraud and food stamp fraud, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Nicole Gordon, 34, of Turtle Creek and Stanley Saxton, 44, of Verona will be confined to their homes for the first five months. They operate Nicky's Corner on Montier Street. They pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in August.
Gordon and Saxton allowed people to cash in food stamps for 50 cents on the dollar so that they could use the money for something other than food, and allowed people to use food stamps to pay for ineligible products such as cigarettes, prosecutors said.
Their attorney, Samuel J. Reich, argued that sending them to prison would jeopardize their ability to repay $119,871 they owe the Department of Agriculture and force them to close the store.
Celia Thornton, who lives near the store, testified that the store provides the neighborhood with a valuable service because it keeps dependable hours, and no other stores nearby carry groceries.
Without it, many residents “would have to take the bus 30 minutes in either direction to get milk,” she said.
“I'm very sorry for what I've done,” Saxton said.
Gordon and Saxton were born in Jamaica but became U.S. citizens.
“I know that it was wrong, and for that I am truly sorry,” Gordon said.
U.S. District Judge Maurice Cohill said he hoped never to see either of them in court again.
“I hope you will continue do a good job at Nicky's Corner,” he said.
The Agriculture Department estimates that about 1.3 percent of the $69.8 billion paid in food stamps annually gets diverted through fraud. The program has 47.6 million participants.
Gordon and Saxton are the first two local store owners convicted and sentenced for fraud since the department opened an Inspector General's Office in 2010. At least two other store owners face similar charges.
Special Agent Grant Friday said after the hearing that having the local office has increased the agency's scrutiny of all of its programs, including one that provides food stamps.
“It's one of our main programs,” he said.
Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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