The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is funded by taxpayers and provides assistance to American citizens who are struggling to put healthy food on the table for their families. According to 2012 SNAP data, the program assisted more than 46 million people a month. (At an average of $133 per person per month – that’s more than $74 billion in paid benefits this year.) More Americans than ever are in need of assistance due to the economic recession and recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy. Today’s Fraud of the Day from the Daily Interlake focuses on a fraudster in Montana who probably figured she’d get her cut too, despite having a decent income and being located nowhere near any natural disasters.
A 38-year old woman from Kalispell, MT, recently pleaded guilty to repeatedly defrauding federal programs designed to aid low-income families. The woman is charged with theft of federal property by fraud after receiving nearly $41,000 in food stamps and other benefits to which she was not entitled. The woman applied for and received food stamps based on the reported income of herself and her husband between 2002 and 2008. She failed to report that they earned a combined income of $310,000 over the six-year period (I guess she missed a bunch of zeroes). When confronted with the error, the woman admitted that she had intentionally misled the government. She was ordered to repay $29,000 in food aid benefits received after a December 2010 hearing.
The plot thickens. Some time prior to the 2010 hearing, the woman and her family moved to Washington and once again applied for and received welfare benefits from September 2010 through May 2011. She concealed the family’s total income and received overpayments of $10,154 in federal benefits. (They call that taking a second bite at the apple.)
This lady is bold. In June 2011, she once again signed up for more federal benefits, which she received through May 2012. (Maybe she wasn’t on the fraud watch list yet? This is where public records and data analytics would come in handy.) Yes, you guessed it, she misrepresented the family’s income and falsely stated that she and her husband had separated and no longer lived together. Her total take this time was $1,696.
Three strikes, you’re out! It looks like her third deception did her in. She admitted her actions when confronted. The repeat offender has agreed to pay restitution for nearly $41,000 in received federal benefits. She now faces up to 10 years in prison and three years of supervised release, plus a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in March 2013.
Maybe while she is serving her sentence she can get some math tutoring, which will come in handy for filing her next tax return. Enough about this particular fraudster. What steps will the government take to find repeat fraudsters like her?