- Sin Y. Sit, 47, of Erie, pleaded guilty in federal court in Pittsburgh to paying cash for grocery stamps and laundering money in the McKeesport Asian market
- Sit is due to report to jail this summer and still runs the State Street Asian market
- As part of the penalty, Erie’s business was hit with a $ 351,739 lien to secure its repayment to the government; Erie Store will be closed
Mei A. Asian Grocery at 1021 State St. in downtown Erie shares the same name and owner as a store that operated in the Pittsburgh area.
The two stores are linked in another way: through a $ 352,000 grocery stamp fraud and money laundering program that ran at the McKeesport store, southeast of Pittsburgh, for three years until 2017.
The defendant in the fraud case, Sin Y. Sit, a resident of Erie, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to two years and three months in federal prison in the US District Court in Pittsburgh in April. Sit is scheduled to report to jail this summer.
Sit, 47, also owns Mei A. Asian Grocery at 1021 State St., which is about to close.
Although this deal was not involved in the fraud, a federal lien was placed on the property in the Pittsburgh case for $ 351,739.
If so, advocate allowing customers to exchange grocery stamp credits for cash and use grocery stamp credits to purchase tobacco, counterfeit DVDs, and other items under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP., Not eligible for purchase
Sitting as part of the sentence must pay $ 351,739 in redress.
To collect the money, the Department of Justice has placed a lien in that amount on the property owned by Sit at 1021 State St., according to a notice filed with the Erie County Court.
Sit didn’t respond to a message he personally left in his Erie store. A sign on the store’s front door said it will be closed and a clerk said Friday that the store should close at the end of the month.
Lien on 3 properties
The Justice Department has placed equal liens on two lots in the Pittsburgh area, including a house in Glassport that Sit owns, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh.
Sit did not own the property the McKeesport store was on, according to Allegheny County’s real estate records. This store is closed due to a disconnected phone line and online information.
The liens will remain on Sit’s property until he pays the $ 351,739. Any sale of the property would require Sit to use the proceeds to attempt to settle the liens. The Department of Justice will suspend liens if a debtor owes any amount of repayment to a non-federal agency or owes a federal agency more than $ 2,500.
The lien on Sit’s State Street property was filed in the Erie County Courthouse on June 1.
In 2016, Sit bought the property at 1021 State St. and the adjoining property at 1023 State St. According to court records, he had opened the store in McKeesport years earlier.
Sitz remains vacant on an unsecured $ 10,000 bond and is due to report to federal jail after July 15, according to his ruling by Pittsburgh-based District Judge William Stickman IV. He sentenced Sit on April 29th. Sit must be released under custody for two years once he leaves prison.
Sit pleaded guilty to all three charges in October: conspiracy, food stamp fraud and money laundering conspiracy.
Federal authorities charged Sit in September of running the program from the McKeesport store from March 2014 to May 2017, according to court records. The US Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh said Sit’s former wife, Qiao Jiang, also ran the store and conspiracy, even though she was not a defendant in the criminal case.
As part of the program, Sit paid a number of customers 50 cents on the dollar for grocery brand credits and allowed customers to purchase the ineligible items. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the money laundering fee related to Sit using USDA grocery brand credit reimbursements to pay more customers for their credits in cash. The office said the USDA transferred funds to the McKeesport business’s business account to reimburse Sit for the grocery stamp credits used during the fraudulent transactions.
Investigators used a confidential source to make at least 14 covert purchases in the McKeesport store, the US prosecutor said. In one purchase, the confidential source traded about $ 2,100 in grocery branded credits for about $ 1,000 in cash, counterfeit DVDs, and at least one tobacco product, according to the bureau.
Defense wanted lesser punishment
A native of China, Sit came to the United States when he was about 8 years old – a family story his attorney highlighted in a judgment memorandum calling for a prison sentence of 18 to 24 months. The sentencing guidelines in Sit’s case recommended a sentence of 27 to 33 months, and his 27-month sentence was in that range.
Sit’s attorney, Ronald W. Hayward, called for a reduced sentence, saying Sit cooperated with the government and quickly pleaded guilty after the charges were brought. He also waived charges on what the defense said should benefit Sit.
The defense’s conviction memo mentions the Mei A. Asian Grocery on State Street and how a lower sentence would give Sit more time to run the store while out of jail. The memo states that Sit used the store’s proceeds to support his three children, two of whom are in college and a third plans to go to college after graduating from high school this year. Sit lives in Erie and his children live with their mother when they are out of school, the memo says.
“Mr. Sit simply wants to help his children improve themselves and be a good father,” the memo says.
Contact Ed Palattella at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNpalattella.