The Shame Effect

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Many judges punish individuals who have committed a crime with time behind bars. Occasionally, judges come up with creative ways to enforce a sentence that don’t require jail time. Today’s “Fraud of the Day” article showcases how a Michigan judge dealt with food stamp fraud. He required four perpetrators from Hamtramck to be publicly shamed.

Here’s just a bit of history for you: public shaming or humiliation was designed to disgrace someone who committed a crime and was used mostly from the beginning of European colonization throughout the 19th century. (I guess this judge figured that if the method worked back then, it would probably work just as well today.)

The four perpetrators, who were also brothers, pulled off a food stamp fraud scheme by letting customers at their store in Hamtramck exchange food stamp benefits for items that were not allowed – cigarettes, phone cards, cash and other ineligible items. (They made $500,000 at the government’s expense over two years.)

 The defendants’ attorney attempted to paint a picture showing that the four brothers, who were from Bangladesh, were hard working, generous immigrants who eluded poverty by working in restaurants and factories. Members of their Bangladeshi community filed support letters on behalf of one brother, who immigrated to America first. (He assisted 11 relatives in their quest to come to the United States for a fresh start.) Ironically, the man was described as a “loving and caring family man, kind neighbor, and a generous and strong supporter” of his ethnic community. (What they neglected to say was that he used stolen government funds to take his family on expensive family vacations, all the while collecting public assistance funds.)

The judge found the situation paradoxical and decided to use public shaming to make a point. The four Bangladeshi brothers from Hamtramck were ordered to place an ad in a local newspaper in two languages – English and Bengali – admitting their crime. (The ad, which ran for three weeks, was required to list the names of the four perpetrators who collected food stamp benefits they were not entitled to.)

The brother who owned the store received a nine-month prison sentence (that’s a breeze compared to the prosecutor’s recommendation for up to 27 months) for his part in the food stamp fraud in addition to paying $724,436 in restitution. The other three brothers were sentenced to one day behind bars and two years of supervised release. They must also pay restitution ranging from $537,000 to $784,000.

In a day and age when many people rely on digital methods to communicate, this punishment may go unnoticed by those who don’t read the community newspaper. But, just like in the olden days, news travels fast by word-of-mouth. (Which is exactly what the judge wanted to happen.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Judge shames 4 Bangladeshi food stamp crooks with unique sentence,” published by Detroit Free Press on November 3, 2018.

Four convicted food stamp scammers have been hit with a shame punishment that puts an ethnic community in Hamtramck on notice: The perps have been ordered to place an ad in a local newspaper in both English and Bengali, warning others not to steal like they did.

The defendants — four Bangladishi brothers convicted of exchanging cash, batteries and phone cards for food stamps —  have to pay for the ad, which will read:

“To Readers, listen to us. If you cheat on food stamps you are committing a federal crime and will be punished for doing so. We know: We have been punished for cheating on food stamps.”

 

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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.