A Georgia man convicted of running a food stamp fraud scheme was ordered to pay back the $5.1 million he stole.
Michael Paul Atkinson, Jr., owner of Midway Market, raked in millions of dollars by making fake charges to customers’ Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, according to reports from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“The defendant used the food stamp program as an ATM,” U.S. Attorney John Horn said in a Wednesday news release from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In addition to the $5,141,520 Atkinson will pay in restitution, he was sentenced to five years in prison and three additional years supervised release.
Atkinson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and admitted he defrauded the state of millions of dollars through the food stamps system known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) between 2010 and 2015. Atkinson admitted that he used the money from his fraud scheme to purchase his house, which has been seized by the DOJ.
EBT cards work a lot like debit cards, except the cardholder is forbidden from exchanging the benefits for cash. Atkinson rang up completely false charges on EBT cards and paid out cash to reimburse the cardholders. Atkinson also allowed food stamp users to purchase things like alcohol and tobacco, which aren’t eligible food stamp purchases, with the cash he returned to them.(RELATED: USDA STILL Can’t Prevent Food Stamp Fraud)
The Justice Department news release says Georgia’s SNAP benefits paid more than $5.1 million to Midway Market over the years that should not have been paid. Since EBT cards are a national system, Atkinson’s crime amounts to inter-state wire fraud.
“The American tax system is designed to provide vital government services to our people,” Veronica Hyman-Pillot, special agent in charge of the IRS criminal investigation, said in the news release. “Every dollar that Michael Paul Atkinson diverted through fraudulent and criminal activity is a dollar taken away from a child in need or a vulnerable adult,” Hyman-Pillot said.
The Government Accountability Office reported in June that guidelines given to state investigative teams were inadequate to prevent fraud, and, even when followed correctly, did not address widespread fraud within the food stamps program.
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