Agent Going To Jail For Food Stamp Fraud

CLEVELAND (AP) - A federal agent got six months in prison for stealing nearly $50,000 in evidence used in undercover investigations that targeted grocery stores for food-stamp fraud.

Anthony Punka, 46, of suburban Brunswick, was the senior agent for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's office in Cleveland.

He told U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells on Monday that he stole federal money designated for investigations to cover years of binge credit card spending.

"I know I've done wrong," he said. "My wrong is certainly more serious because of the position that I had, and I did abuse that."

Wells sentenced Punka to six months in prison and six months in home detention with electronic monitoring. She ordered him to pay back the money that he stole and more than $11,000 for the cost of housing him in prison.

Punka pleaded guilty in April to taking money used in undercover investigations that targeted Cleveland grocery stores. He worked on a task force made up of local police and federal agents who tracked food stamp fraud.

His work helped investigators to close five Cleveland grocery stores and convict the stores' three owners this year in a $15 million food stamp scam.

"He did a lot of good work for the agency," said Punka's lawyer, Donald Hicks. "Somehow, he has to put the pieces back together."

Hicks said Punka would use his pension to pay back the stolen money.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)