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You would think that because the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) includes the word “nutrition” in the name, it’s easy to surmise that the food stamp program would pay for any type of food in general. (But that is not the case.) The operator of a Columbia, South Carolina deli committed food stamp fraud when he tried to trick the government into paying for food items that were not covered under SNAP.

 While most food and beverages are approved, SNAP benefits are generally used for things like bread, cereals, fruits and vegetables, meat and dairy products. SNAP beneficiaries are not allowed to buy any type of alcohol, tobacco products, vitamins, over-the-counter medicines or pre-prepared food at any retailer that accepts the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card. (That means no pizza, sub sandwiches or hot food. Ironically, the program will cover junk food like potato chips, pretzels and ice cream.)

If an EBT card holder tries to buy something that is not SNAP-approved, their purchase is supposed to be declined, with the retailer providing an explanation as to why. The Columbia, South Carolina retailer let SNAP beneficiaries purchase prepared food in violation of the program rules.

The deli operator was approved to receive SNAP benefits as payment for food items and knew that selling prepared food to SNAP beneficiaries was illegal. Despite that, he allowed them to make small purchases and processed the transactions at much larger amounts than would have been allowed. (The restaurant did not carry enough food to justify the purchases that were recorded from his store. So, that was a red flag to investigators.)

In true food stamp fraudster fashion, the South Carolinian paid his food stamp patrons some of the cash, while keeping a portion for himself. Investigators traced the proceeds of the scam to a bank account under the control of the deli owner where it was discovered that $956,006.90 had been deposited over three-and-a-half years. (Investigators found evidence of a $159,187 cash withdrawal and a transfer of $714,032 to multiple personal accounts. Apparently, he used the rest of the government funds to purchase items for the store.)

The 43-year-old deli owner was sentenced to 27 months in prison for committing food stamp fraud. He was also ordered to pay $1,039,981.75 in restitution. While the dishonest deli operator was once very liberal with approving illegal purchases, the government has officially declined any further payment related to his million-dollar fraud scheme. I’m sure taxpayers also approve the decision to put this fraudster behind bars where he can no longer steal food from the mouths of low-income families and individuals who need the program to survive.

 Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Columbia man owes more than $1 million to government for food stamp fraud,” published by The State on March 16, 2018.

COLUMBIA, SC  – A Columbia man was sentenced to prison and must pay more than $1,000,000 in restitution for his role in the theft of food stamp money.

Christopher O’Berry, 43, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for theft of government money, according to U.S. Attorney Beth Drake. O’Berry was also ordered to pay $1,039,981.75 in restitution to the United States.

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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.