Criminals take great effort to make their fraudulent activities look legitimate. An article in The Pittsburg Post-Gazette describes the case of a convenience store owner involved in a scheme to bilk the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) out of thousands of dollars from bogus transactions made to look like they were legitimate food sales.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, qualifying food sales under the SNAP program include items that members of a household can eat, such as breads and cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, poultry and fish and dairy products. Items that CANNOT be purchased with SNAP benefits include alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, tobacco, non-food items such as pet foods, soaps, paper products, household supplies, vitamins and medicines or hot food that can be consumed in the store. (That’s a pretty detailed list.)
The story reports that over approximately four years, the 56-year-old store owner didn’t adhere to the SNAP requirements and accepted more than $128,000 in food stamps in return for ineligible products. The fraudster allowed food stamp beneficiaries to purchase cigarettes, tobacco products and soap using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. (That’s a big no-no.) These transactions allowed the store owner to receive funds from the SNAP program to which he was not entitled.
The man pleaded guilty to conspiracy, food stamp fraud and money laundering. Further research revealed that the law provides a maximum sentence of 35 years in prison, a fine of $750,000, or both.
This criminal’s sentence will be dependent upon how serious the judge considers his offenses. (I’d say stealing money from the government is pretty offensive.) It’s a certainty that this experience will teach the fraudster that he can’t circumvent the law any more by performing illegitimate activities. He will have to comply with the sentence that is handed down to him. (And that is legit.)