Rashella Reed, 41, of Riverdale was sentenced Wednesday by U.S. District Judge William T. Moore Jr. in Savannah. She and two others were convicted in the case in July. Thirteen other people accused in the scheme had already pleaded guilty.
Donald Johnstono, a lawyer for Reed, said Friday he believes her sentence is excessive, especially given that the two women who he said masterminded the scheme received sentences of less than five years in exchange for their guilty pleas and willingness to cooperate with prosecutors. Reed believed she was participating in a legitimate investment opportunity, Johnstono said.
Federal prosecutors in Savannah said the scheme involved 13 grocery stores across Georgia — including stores in Savannah, Augusta, Atlanta, Decatur, Macon and Columbus — that were used as fronts to launder money taken fraudulently from government programs for the poor.
The participants in the scheme used the fronts to buy Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamp, benefits and vouchers for the Women, Infant and Children Program. They paid the benefit recipients between 10 cents and 60 cents on the dollar and pocketed the rest, prosecutors said.
“SNAP and WIC are part of the hunger safety net put in place to provide assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families who qualify,” U.S. Attorney Edward J. Tarver said in a statement Friday. “These defendants scammed federal food programs, swindled American taxpayers and literally took food out of the mouths of children.”
Reed invested money and registered the name for The Baby Spot store in Decatur, but she was rarely there and drew a modest monthly check from the store to supplement her income from teaching, Johnstono said. She did not realize anything illegal was going on and, unlike the scheme’s masterminds, did not draw an enormous profit.
Reed also was sentenced to serve three years of supervised release when she’s done serving her prison term and to pay more than $8 million in restitution.
Derrick Jamein Robinson, who also went to trial and was convicted alongside Reed, received a sentence of just over 12 years, supervised release of three years and restitution of more than $7 million. Tory Hardwick, the third person who was convicted with them, is set to be sentenced later this month.