If your grocery store or convenience store has been accused of food stamp fraud, then you need an experienced lawyer to represent you.
Food stamp fraud in New York carries significant penalties for retailers. Here’s what you need to know to fight the charge.
Types of Food Stamp Fraud for Retailers
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides food stamps through its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Although SNAP originally provided actual stamps with cash values, it later switched to the current system, where recipients of food stamps receive a certain amount deposited onto an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card.
There are a couple common ways that retailers can commit food stamp fraud.
The most common type of retailer food stamp fraud is trafficking. This is when you purchase a customer’s SNAP benefits for cash or other items.
A standard transaction with a customer using food stamps would involve you selling the customer an eligible item and charging his EBT card for the amount, just like you would any other debit card.
The difference with trafficking is that you’re charging the customer for a non-existent transaction or you’re charging him more than he should pay for an item, with his consent. In return, you give him a portion of the extra amount that you charged him.
For example, if a customer came in to your store and you charged his EBT card $200, then gave him $100, that would be trafficking. You’re collecting $200 even though you haven’t provided $200 of merchandise to the customer, and you’re facilitating the customer’s fraud by giving him $100 cash.
Another common type of food stamp fraud is allowing the customer to purchase ineligible items. The USDA provides information on items that are and aren’t eligible for SNAP purchases. SNAP benefits can be put towards most common household foods, but the customer can’t use them for alcohol, tobacco products, non-food items, hot foods and medicines.
If you allowed a customer to purchase something on that list, then you’d be committing fraud. Retailers often do this and charge the customer extra for the purchase.
Penalties of Food Stamp Fraud for Retailers
There are serious penalties involved if you’re convicted of food stamp fraud. Your penalties will depend on the specific offense and the monetary value of the goods involved.
Food stamp fraud will typically include a civil penalty. If you’re found guilty of trafficking, a court in New York can fine you up to $100,000 per instance of trafficking, meaning those costs can add up quickly. If you sell ineligible items for SNAP benefits, the amount you’re fined will depend on the value of the items.
Allowing a customer to purchase a gun or controlled substance with SNAP benefits also carries a steep penalty of up to $100,000 per violation.
The prosecutor can press criminal charges against you for food stamp fraud. Depending on the circumstances of your case, this could result in jail time.
Another issue with food stamp fraud is that it can lead to you getting disqualified from the SNAP program, either permanently or temporarily. If your store is in a low-income area with a large number of people who receive SNAP benefits, then this can result in a significant loss of income.
How long can you expect a disqualification to last?
Any convictions for trafficking or selling either guns or controlled substances will lead to a permanent disqualification. Selling tobacco products or alcohol to customers paying with SNAP benefits could earn you a three to five-year suspension. Sale of any other ineligible nonfood products could bring a six-month to three-year disqualification.
These aren’t just penalties that no one ever gets, either. In 2015, the owners of Big Boys Food Market pled guilty to food stamp fraud. For the period from April of 2012 to May of 2013, the two brothers who owned the market were found to have exchanged almost $148,000 worth of SNAP benefits for cash.
Even though they cooperated by pleading guilty, the brothers were still sentenced to each make full restitution to the USDA for the $147,658.28 they fraudulently took from the program. One of the brothers received a 12-month prison sentence, and the other received two years of probation along with a five-month sentence for home detention.
Hiring a Grocery Store Food Stamp Lawyer
The best move you can make if you’re dealing with a food stamp fraud accusation is getting in touch with a qualified grocery store food stamp lawyer who can prepare the most effective defense for you.
Your business could be at stake. Considering penalties for food stamp fraud in New York can reach $100,000 and result in jail time, a conviction will be a serious issue for you. That’s not even considering the damage a SNAP disqualification can do to your store’s earning potential if you have quite a few customers who pay for items using their EBT cards.
Your lawyer will be able to assess your situation and the case against you to set up your defense. If a plea deal is a possibility, your lawyer can negotiate with the prosecutor and get the most favorable terms for you. Contact a food stamp lawyer right away to give yourself the best chance at success fighting your case.
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