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Mother of 9 will not go to prison for SNAP benefits fraud

Raised her kids in a tent with no water, power

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Mother of 9 will not go to prison for food stamp fraud

DEFENDANT: Stephanie Muna, defendant in a federal benefits fraud case, leaves the District Court of Guam following her sentencing on Tuesday. Dontana Keraskes/ The Guam Daily Post 

A recipient of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who admitted to her part in an illegal food stamp scheme was spared from going to prison.

Stephanie Muna, 35, was sentenced to two years of probation before District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood on Tuesday.

Muna pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use, transfer, acquire, alter or possess SNAP benefits without authorization.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Petersburg recommended that the defendant serve an additional 90 days of home confinement.

Muna could barely hold back tears inside the courtroom, as defense attorney Curtis Vandeveld argued why his client should not have to serve more than probation.

"Stephanie has nine children. It's a large number of children in what are painful economic circumstances," said Vandeveld. "She is not a bad person. She is really trying to survive as best she can under the circumstances. The most heinous thing to come out of this is that she won't be eligible for any public support."

Muna began to read her letter to the court moments before being sentenced, however, she was too emotional, and her defense attorney read it instead. Her letter reads:

"I am truly sorry for what I've done. What I have done with Barrogo was wrong. But your honor please it was for the right reasons. You see as I started having kids it was very hard. My kids and I have bounced from home to home until one day we ended up living in a tent with no water or power. As that happened, I could stand back and wait for someone to help me…I had to buy water to make my kids shower. I had to get a generator for my kids to see. Even as I was getting pregnant again. I had to go to the pipelines and find car seats, bring them home and clean them so I can take my babies home from the hospital. Your honor, this is no excuse but it's the truth. It hurt so bad to keep asking for help, and it couldn't come. As I found Barrogo, she helped me without complaining, without hesitating. I am truly sorry for what I've done. I was just trying to support my kids. I didn't mean to cause any harm. They are my life and I could not live without them. Barrogo gave my kids and peace of mind. I was wrong but I did it for the right reasons. To take care of my children. I don't do drugs. I don't go stealing. Please, I need help for my kids. I promise it would never happen again. I meant no harm. I live with shame and fear and honestly, I don't know what to do," Muna stated in her letter to the court. "This all has taken a big toll on my kids. I struggle every day because I dropped out of school to take care of my kids. Please have mercy on my soul. I was just trying to take care of my kids."

Co-defendant

Her co-defendant Marites M. Barrogo, a local restaurant owner, also appeared in court on Tuesday afternoon for sentencing.

The hearing was continued, however, to allow the court more time to review arguments presented by defense attorney Louie Yanza.

Barrogo is scheduled back in court today.

She has also since pleaded guilty to conspiracy to use, transfer, acquire, alter or possess SNAP benefits without authorization.

The federal prosecutor recommended a 10-month prison sentence, while defense recommended she serve probation.

The US Probation Office recommended Barrogo serve five months in prison followed by one year of supervised release to include a five month home detention with electronic monitoring.

Barrogo is the owner and operator of Laguna Best Restaurant & Catering in Harmon.

The restaurant never participated in SNAP, court documents state.

Muna was a SNAP benefit recipient.

Barrogo admitted that between June 2015 and June 2018, she began purchasing SNAP benefits from recipients, including Muna.

Barrogo would buy it monthly and would take Muna's EBT card and PIN to buy food from various local retailers, court documents state.

She admitted to buying more than $15,000 worth of food items during the conspiracy.

Under the direction of Barrogo, Muna recruited at least four other SNAP recipients to participate in the scheme and paid them cash in exchange. Barrogo also told other SNAP participants to buy food items with their benefits, which she would then buy at a discounted price, documents state.

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