Not that I'm particularly interested in revisiting the whole SNAP card and government subsidized program abuses, which have been discussed in this column and through online comment, but I did want to share something I received.
The following information certainly doesn't confirm anything regarding government food programs and those allegedly using small green and purple fruit to scam the system, but it does suggest it is possible to abuse government benefits. None of the instances cited point to grapes for cash exchanges as suggested by my friend in Austin (as previously shared in this column), but there is obviously some misuse of the system.
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2013 - The Agriculture Department's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) announced today several enforcement actions involving fraudulent use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
In one case, a Minnesota store owner was sentenced in federal court Nov. 29 to 41 months in a high-security prison and fined $2.4 million for SNAP fraud. He was ordered to surrender in June 2012, but fled to Belize. The man was tracked down by the U.S. Marshals Service and the USDA's OIG, and returned to the United States.
OIG's investigation had found that the owner was trafficking SNAP benefits and Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) benefits, committing fraud in excess of $3 million.
In another case, an employee of a Detroit convenience store, after pleading guilty, was sentenced to 48 months of probation and fined $60,000 for his role in a criminal enterprise involving SNAP benefits.
OIG said its investigation found that the employee illegally exchanged SNAP benefits for ineligible items on a number of occasions. The investigation found that the store's SNAP redemptions far exceeded those of comparable stores in the area.
In other cases:
- An Indiana store manager was sentenced Dec. 17 to 41 months in prison and fined $1.4 million for his role in a SNAP benefits trafficking ring. OIG agents said the man and his two sons had exchanged SPAN benefits for cash. The agents said they seized more than $500,000 in cash and an unknown amount of jewelry. The sons pled guilty to wire fraud and were sentenced to 12 months of probation in September.
- An employee of a small convenience store in Michigan was sentenced Dec. 18 to 18 months in prison and fined $613,000 for conspiracy to commit SNAP fraud. In addition, he was sentenced to 60 months in prison, to be served concurrently, on a firearms charge. OIG said its investigation found that the employee had a network of individuals who obtained SNAP electronic benefit transfer cards from recipients, and then made phone calls to the store where manual transactions were conducted.
- A Portland woman was sentenced Dec. 19 to 63 months in prison and fined $5,000 for fraudulently receiving SNAP benefits. In addition, she was sentenced to 63 months in prison, to be served concurrently, for heroin distribution.
- The owner of a Chicago fish market was sentenced Nov. 26 to 33 months in prison and fined $674,886 for trafficking SNAP benefits. The man pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud in August 2012.
- The owner of a Pennsylvania food store was sentenced Nov. 29 to 21 months in prison and fined $225,000 for trafficking SNAP benefits. OIG said the store owner exchanged SNAP benefits for cash on multiple occasions. She was charged and pled guilty in May 2012 to one count of SNAP fraud.
Fortunately the people mentioned in this article have been caught and prosecuted, but you can only imagine how many other system abuses go unchecked. And such was the point of my original columns. There are people out there taking advantage of a system, and stealing from those who fund the system - not the U.S. Government - but the taxpayers who are asked to not only take care of their own families, but to foot the bill for those who need assistance.
I don't mind helping those in true need as they work to get back on their feet, but I've got a real problem giving to a system that allows people to turn a helping hand into a way of life. And if you don't believe there are people out there living off the system, you need to wake up and take a hard look around.