Do you make a grocery list before you head to the store?  What’s your sorting method?  Perhaps you like to hit the produce section first, make your way to the chips aisle and finish up in dairy and meat.  Everyone has their method; fraudsters, for example, make sure to hit the food stamp aisle, trading in benefits for cash.  According to an article in The Tampa Tribune, one store clerk found many food stamp recipients putting cash for benefits at the top of their grocery lists.

A recent conviction in connection with food stamp fraud may leave one Florida store clerk rethinking his grocery shopping method, as he may be heading to jail. (Sorry buddy, you don’t get to pick the food in the jail.) A jury found the food stamp fraudster guilty of conspiracy to defraud the government and commit wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud and five counts of food stamp fraud.  An investigation found the fraudster worked as a clerk in a small grocery store where he and others, including the store owner, defrauded the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), a.k.a. the food stamps program, run by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).  But how were they able to rake in $350,000 before getting caught? (As compared to many fraud scams, this is a relatively low dollar scam against the government.)

Between November 2008 and April 2010 the fraudsters conspired to cheat SNAP by purchasing benefits from customers for cash. (We seriously need a new method for preventing fraud in the food stamp program.  Bring in identification, present that ID with the benefits clearly marked under your name and you can use the benefits to purchase groceries.  Why is this so hard?)  The store clerks charged 50 percent of the cash paid to the benefit holders; these transactions are known as “discounting” or “cash-back.”  Florida is taking a stand to reduce the rise in fraud rates by teaming up federal, state and local government for investigations –  in this case the Secret Service, Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the St. Petersburg Police Department.  Our fraudster clerk faces up to five years in federal prison for his conspiracy charge, up to 20 years for his wire fraud charge, and one year on each of the food stamp charges. (So give him the max!  He clearly knew what he was doing the entire time.  Why are we letting these criminals off so easy?)  The fraudster clerk and store owner will be sentenced in July.

Regardless of what order you like to make your grocery list, it’s a best practice to leave any type of food stamp fraud off the list.  These fraudsters will learn their lesson as their 50/50 food stamp deals landed them 100% in jail.  Now back to my list of groceries – eggs, milk, chips, fraudsters in jail

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