Crime & Courts

Columbia man owes more than $1 million to government for food stamp fraud

A Columbia man was sentenced to prison and must pay more than $1,000,000 in restitution for his role in the theft of food stamp money.

Christopher O’Berry, 43, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for theft of government money, according to U.S. Attorney Beth Drake. O’Berry was also ordered to pay $1,039,981.75 in restitution to the United States.

O’Berry operated Cynthia’s Soul Food Deli (formerly Food World), which was located near the intersection of St. Andrews Road and Broad River Road.

It served food, but was also registered to receive SNAP benefits as payment for food items. SNAP is commonly known as the food stamp program, assists low-income families and individuals purchase food.

Drake's office said this arrangement posed two issues. First, SNAP does not pay for prepared food. Second, the restaurant did not stock sufficient food to justify the purchases recorded under SNAP.

O’Berry allowed beneficiaries to make small purchases through SNAP but processed them as much larger amounts, according to Drake's office. He would then pay some cash to the beneficiary and keep some for himself.

The investigation traced proceeds of the theft to a Woodforest National Bank account controlled by O’Berry, where he deposited $956,006.90 between May 2011 and December 2014, Drake's office said. He then withdrew $158,187 in cash and transferred $714,032 to his own accounts. The rest was used to make minimal purchases for the store.

“SNAP is an important source of critical funding to South Carolinians most in need, including the elderly and young families," Drake said in a news release. "When the unscrupulous or dishonest defraud the program — and that includes businesses and recipients of SNAP benefits — they are both stealing from the tax payers and eroding a program that does a lot of good."