A massive welfare fraud scheme was unearthed and ultimately sent 14 people to jail. The criminals who stole from Americans taxpayers all have one very significant thing in common!
The Baltimore area retail store operators charged with welfare fraud all have Middle Eastern names! The fraud indictment states the retail store operators received more than $16 million in federal (i.e. taxpayer funded) reimbursements for food they did not actually sell to the poor, CBS reports.
Welfare fraud, commonly referred to as “food stamp trafficking,” cheats We the People out of our hard-earned money. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service must approve all the retailers who offer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
In Maryland, poor citizens are provided an electronic “benefit” transfer card, or EBT card, to buy groceries. The card functions like a debit card and is scanned at an approved store’s checkout.
Retailers who participate in the food stamp program deduct the cash value of the purchase from the consumers’ SNAP balance. The USDA then pays retailers for the purchased food after sending a bill to the federal government.
The Baltimore welfare fraud defendants are accused of exchanging EBT benefits for cash. The store provides the welfare recipient cash instead of food with enough leftover for the store to also make a profit. Such schemes are believed to occur in states around the country. The food stamp recipients who participate in such schemes are also committing an illegal act and defrauding the American people who pay for their food.
“USDA has a zero tolerance policy on fraud, and we continue to strengthen our anti-fraud tactics to identify and exclude bad actors. More than any other factor, we know that the change in the trafficking rate is being driven by the growth in the number of smaller retailers where trafficking occurs at ten times the rate of larger grocery stores and supermarkets,” said Kevin Concannon, Agriculture Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services, as per USDA.
In an effort to avoid getting caught, the suspects with Middle Eastern names who own the stores had the welfare recipients’ debit money from the cards in a series of transactions over hours or days, the Department of Justice said.
Some of the store operators allegedly sold food at substantially reduced prices and then split the federal reimbursement money with the food stamp participants.
“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,” said United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Honest store owners 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.”
The welfare fraud defendants face up to 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, up to five years behind bars for conspiracy to commit food stamp fraud and wire fraud, and a maximum of five years in jail for food stamp fraud.
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