What’s in the Shopping Cart?

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19306390 - hand holding empty shopping basket - shopping concept

 The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is pretty clear about how government food stamp benefits can be used. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which administers the program, prefers that beneficiaries buy healthy stuff like breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, poultry products and seeds and plants, which can produce food (a garden) for the household to consume. A Deli owner from Columbia, South Carolina committed food stamp fraud by allowing SNAP beneficiary customers to buy prepared food from his small store. (There’s just one problem – FNS does not allow for the purchase of prepared food that can be consumed within the store or carried out.)

Approximately 23 million households receive around $74 billion in SNAP benefits each year. (The average payout per household is about $256 per month.) A USDA report shows that SNAP households spend about 40 cents per dollar on basic items such as meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread, while another 40 cents per dollar goes for cereal, prepared foods, dairy products, rice and beans. The last 20 percent is typically spent on junk food including sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar. (It’s interesting that junk food is ok, but prepared food that has a better chance at being healthy is not allowed, but I digress.)

 The Deli owner allowed his SNAP beneficiary customers to make small purchases at his store, but he padded his own pocket with government funds by overcharging his customers. (He kept some of the money for himself, while giving a bit back to the SNAP recipient.) Over about three-and-a-half years, the Deli owner deposited $956,006 into his business account, withdrew about $158,000 in cash and put $714,000 in his personal bank account. (The rest of the money was used to make small purchases for his store.)

Since SNAP does not pay for prepared food and the deli didn’t stock sufficient food to justify the purchases recorded under the program, the 43-year-old Columbia, South Carolina man admitted to and pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison and must pay back more than $1 million for stealing from the government program that assists low-income families and individuals with purchasing food.

If you’re interested in learning what the top 20 items are found in a food stamp beneficiary’s shopping cart, check out this list. What today’s case reinforces for other retailers contemplating SNAP fraud through the sale of prepared food is that the government doesn’t like getting burned by criminals who exploit vulnerable individuals for personal gain. (It kind of leaves a bad taste if you know what I mean.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Man Ordered to Pay $1 Million for Stealing Food Stamp Money,” posted on WLTX.com on March 15, 2018.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) – A Columbia man will spend two years in prison and must pay back over $1 million after stealing money from the food stamp program.

Christopher O’Berry, 43, was sentenced to 27 months behind bars by a federal judge for theft of government money.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.