In the criminal defense world, authorities hear all kinds of excuses for illegal behavior such as insanity, mental instability, drunkenness, duress, provocation, self defense or entrapment. In the world of food stamp fraud, a unique excuse was recently made by the owner of two small convenience stores in Salem and Lynn. As reported by The Salem News, the owner does not believe it is his fault that food stamp fraud was committed in his stores. He blames his customers.

The article states that the convenience store customers were not using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to buy food and necessities. The 38-year-old owner testified in court that his customers didn’t have time to visit the ATM, so he provided the opportunity to exchange EBT card benefits for cash. (That’s definitely convenient – and against the rules.) He would charge the EBT cards for bogus food transactions, then dole out cash to the beneficiary, keeping a portion for himself. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, would then directly reimburse the convenience store bank account for the EBT transactions.

Over the course of a year, the story reports that the store owner made more than $800,000 in food stamp transactions. It is estimated that the fraudster was earning close to $250,000 after business expense deductions. This funded a comfortable life style for the store owner and his family. The defense attorney made multiple arguments to try to keep the store owner out of prison, to include the fact that he needed an income because the couple’s BMW needed a new transmission and a portion of the store owner’s income goes to the Department of Revenue to pay off a state cigarette tax bill. (Life is rough.)

Fortunately, the judge didn’t fall for any of the excuses. Even though he agreed the customers were partly to blame (I’ll tackle that angle on SNAP fraud in a future commentary), the store owner was responsible for facilitating the fraudulent transactions. The fraudster was sentenced to two years in jail.

Further research shows that the fraudster failed to show up to the courthouse to receive his GPS monitoring bracelet. The man finally reported two days late with a list of excuses (surprise, surprise) as to why he missed his court ordered date. Needless to say, the judge ordered him to jail immediately to start his two-year prison term. (Way to go Judge! Enough is enough.) There is no excuse for shunning personal responsibility. Fraudsters seem to forget that there are always consequences for their actions.

  1. It is difficult to prevent this type of food stamp trafficking. Even during the time monopoly money was used, there were still stores that discounted the bills. A permanent disqualification from the program for a first offense would hurt the business immensely and shut down one whose community’s population has a high percentage of SNAP participants. The threat of losing your family business would be a great deterrent.

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