A group of store owners in Maryland were arrested for allegedly running a cash-for-food stamps scheme, stealing more than $16 million from taxpayer-funded welfare.
U.S. attorneys indicted 14 owners and operators of nine separate stores around Baltimore, Md., Tuesday, and charged them with committing food stamps trafficking fraud, according to the announcement.
“The food stamp program is intended to put food on the tables of needy recipients, not to put money in the pockets of greedy criminals,” Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland said in a statement. “Honest storeowners work hard to earn a profit by actually selling food, and food producers and distributors also benefit. People who play by the rules deserve to know that criminals who defraud them will be held accountable.”
Prosecutors allege that the 14 people would ring up fake charges on a customer’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, then split the cash value with the customer. Most of the stores in the indictment brought in around a million dollars by making fake transactions, but two stores raked more than $3.5 million each over the past six years.
EBT cards work like a debit cards, which the federal government loads with taxpayer money every couple weeks. The store’s card reader can see the user’s account balance, and the funds for the purchase will be transferred directly to the store.(RELATED: Store Allegedly Let Food Stamps Users Buy MILLIONS In Bongs, Pipes)
“Far from being a victimless crime, the offenders in this investigation defrauded a combined amount of approximately $16 million from taxpayer funded programs,” Kevin Perkins, special agent in charge at the FBI’s Baltimore Office. “These programs are intended to provide assistance for those in need—not a means of abuse or selfish enrichment.”
The food stamps program, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food stamps trafficking amounts to wire fraud because the program is national and funds are transferred electronically across state lines, and carries a maximum 20 year sentence.
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