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Convict in Guam food stamp fraud walks

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Yolanda Digoman, one of two government of Guam nutrition assistants accused of taking part in food stamp-related fraud, has pleaded guilty to official misconduct as a misdemeanor but she walked freely after her sentencing Wednesday.

Yolanda Digoman, a Guam government nutrition assistant, leaves the courtroom after a change-of-plea hearing, Wednesday, in Hagåtña.  Photo by David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

Her one-year prison sentence was suspended. This means Digoman can stay out of prison but must comply with probationary requirements or risk being locked up.

As part of the agreement, the prosecution moved to dismiss charges of unauthorized use of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, also known as the food stamp program, fraudulent use of public assistance and impersonation: identity theft, each as third-degree felonies.

Digoman would also be required to pay restitution to the government per the plea agreement. But as of the hearing Wednesday morning, prosecutor Woodrow Pengelly said he was not aware of any restitution being sought. If restitution is sought, it would be through a government motion.

Digoman and her co-defendant, Jennifer D.C. Topacio, were indicted on June 5, 2018.

The defendants “knowingly used, transferred, acquired or possessed food stamp coupons or authorization to participate cards” in violation of the Federal Food Stamp Act of 1977, according to the indictment.

The alleged fraud occurred in August 2015.

Like Digoman, Topacio pleaded guilty to official misconduct as a misdemeanor in 2019. Her sentencing is still outstanding but Topacio’s plea agreement indicated she too would receive a one-year suspended sentence and have her felony charges dismissed. She was also expected to testify against Digoman had the matter gone to trial.

Superior Court of Guam Judge Maria Cenzon, who presided over Digoman’s hearing on Wednesday, said the hearing would allow the court to move forward with Topacio’s sentencing.

Both women were listed as employees of the Department of Public Health and Social Services as of the fiscal 2019 fourth quarter staffing pattern.

Digoman and Topacio are listed as nutrition assistants.

Public Health Director Linda DeNorcey told the Post last year that both women would be disciplined and could be fired.

She told the Post on Wednesday that the department was still waiting for a written judgment of conviction. Once that is submitted, the 90-day rule for adverse actions will apply. Public Health will notify the public after it proceeds through the due-process requirements, DeNorcey said.

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