Ever wonder what’s really going on with food service vans? Some are like ice cream trucks for adults, with busy workers waiting by the side of the road for the truck to make its daily run. Then, there are others that are a bit sketchy. How do they stay in business? It seems like more and more of these vans are actually just fronts for all kinds of illegal business opportunities – as is the case with today’s Fraud of the Day from NBC 7 – KPLC in Louisiana.
The story recounts that, in 2008, a 46 year old Louisiana resident became authorized to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as a retailer. Almost immediately, he began operating his own mobile food service business – in which he would pay people 60 cents to the dollar for their SNAP funds. (I wonder if he even bothered to actually serve food…) The Louisiana man would then deposit the full amount into his personal bank account through wire transfers. From January 2009 through December 2010, the man had deposited over $1 million in SNAP funds into his own accounts. (Not a bad salary – $500,000 a year for swiping a card!)
Throughout the investigation, the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had successfully completed 11 undercover transactions with the Louisiana resident’s food service van. In April 2012, the fraudster pleaded guilty to one count of food stamp fraud and one count of wire fraud – of which we will be sentenced to eight and a half years of jail followed by three years of supervised release. In addition, he must complete 50 hours of community service during his first year of supervised release, and pay restitution of $1,289,513.87.
Is this an article about the dark side of food service trucks? Maybe. But, it is also the story of a persistent problem: SNAP fraud. Time and time again, we see cases in which food retailers trade SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer cards for cash. Here, the Secret Service and the USDA found the fraudster. (Great work, by the way!) But, how many more are getting away with it? Remember: these are benefits intended for our neediest citizens.
So, here’s the question for the day: what steps would you take to stop SNAP fraud?