There is no gray area when it comes to participating in a crime. It doesn’t matter whether you played a big part or a small part, either you are involved or you aren’t. Today’s “Fraud of the Day” focuses on a Michigan liquor store owner who directed two of his employees to illegally use $1.3 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to stock his two stores with merchandise. One of the employee’s defense was that he was “minimally involved” in this SNAP fraud. (Let’s just say the judge didn’t think that was an accurate assessment.)
Apparently, the liquor store owner was in search of the “American Dream.” (However, this man didn’t become a successful business owner through his own hard work. Instead, he took advantage of hard working taxpayers and the government by pocketing food stamp benefits that were supposed to be reserved for needy families.)
The illegal SNAP fraud scheme was perpetrated through the store owner’s liquor mini-mart and another liquor store. He directed two employees to pay customers 50 cents on the dollar for their food stamp benefits in the form of Bridge Cards – Michigan’s electronic benefit transfer cards – in exchange for cash and items that were ineligible including cigarettes and alcohol. (Just so you know, other ineligible items include pet food, soap, paper products, household supplies, vitamins, medicine, or hot foods.) The store owner then used the food stamp benefits to buy inventory for his stores. (He was essentially getting the booze for free and selling it for a hefty profit.)
The food stamp scam was revealed when investigators from the U.S. Department of Agriculture used undercover police officers and informants to investigate potential fraud at the two stores. The Flint storeowner and one employee both pleaded guilty to SNAP fraud for their roles in illegally purchasing food stamp benefits from their customers. The storeowner, whose nickname was “Lucky,” did not get so lucky with the judge and received a maximum of four-and-a-half years in federal prison. He must also pay nearly $1.3 million in restitution.
Lucky’s employee, “Paco,” was sentenced to up to 27 months of probation. This was despite his lawyer’s claim that his client was a “minimal participant” in the scheme and only acted under the direction of his boss. (The prosecutors did not give him a break.) A second employee also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and will be sentenced in the fall.
The Michigan SNAP program is designed to fund food stamp programs for the needy, not provide a way for criminals to achieve the “American Dream” and make a profit by taking advantage of honest taxpayers. Let’s hope this case sends a message to those people thinking about participating in any fraud scam. The government has a zero-tolerance policy – even minimal participation in crime means time behind bars.
Source: Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Liquor store owner, worker sentenced for $1.3M food stamp scheme” posted on mlive.com on July 14, 2017.
FLINT, MI – A liquor store owner in search the “American dream” and his employee have been sentenced after pleading to charges for their roles in fleecing the federal government in a scheme to purchase food stamp benefits from customers.
On Tuesday, July 11, Flint U.S. District Judge Linda V. Parker sentenced Lakhbir “Lucky” Chahal to federal prison and Tony “Paco” Price to probation for their roles in the scheme. The pair each previously pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.