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Missouri Man Pleads Guilty To $550K Food Stamp Scheme

(REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn)

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A Missouri convenience store owner pleaded guilty Monday to defrauding the food stamp system of $550,000 over the course of just four years.

Patrick Buck used his position as owner of B&H Convenience to manipulate the food stamp system. He was able to scam the program of $550,000 in benefits between January 2010 and March 2014, the Department of Justice reported Tuesday. He illegally allowed his customers to exchange their food stamp benefits for unauthorized items.

The food stamp program is designed to provide nutritional support to low-income and impoverished individuals. The program includes a long list of restricted items to help curve abuse. Recipients cannot buy household goods, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and drugs, among many other restricted items. They also can’t exchange benefits for cash.

Buck pleaded guilty to four felony counts of unauthorized use of food stamp benefits. He could face a maximum penalty of five years in prison for each felony — his sentence will be decided at an upcoming hearing. He could also be charged up to $250,000 for each count as well.

The food stamp program is the largest food-assistance welfare service in the country. It is officially known as the The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the program in coordination with state agencies.

The USDA estimates the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. The Congressional Budget Office found, since participation hit its peak in December 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million.

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