What is Food Stamp Fraud and What Penalties Can Result?
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, typically known as SNAP or food stamps, is designed to aid individuals and families who lack the resources to purchase what is considered an equitable amount of nutritious food. People who are disabled, the working poor, and others may meet SNAP standards and receive assistance. When attempts are made to utilize this type of public assistance in ways that are not in compliance with current laws, then fraud has occurred. Here is what you need to understand about food stamp fraud and what can result from a conviction.
What Laws Have to do With Food Stamp Fraud?
In Long Island and other areas of New York, Article 158 of the New York State Penal Code applies to cases of food stamp fraud. The provisions are found in a broader law that focuses on welfare fraud. From the beginning of this article, the issue of abusing SNAP benefits is addressed.
What are Some Examples of Food Stamp Fraud?
Fraud of this type can take on a number of different forms. One of the most common is choosing to make false statements on applications for SNAP benefits. In this scenario, the person who is seeking to secure food stamp benefits will willingly omit information that could lead to a rejection of the application. For example, the person makes a decision to withhold information about a source of income that must be revealed in order for the application to be properly considered.
Another approach to fraud has to do with including false information in an attempt to secure the benefits. While much of the data provided on the application is true, the applicant intentionally provides answers that are not true. This could be something as simple as misrepresenting the number of dependants living in the household.
It’s also possible to commit food stamp fraud by creating a false identity and seeking to secure benefits under that name. This includes attempting to use the identity of a relative or other person who is now deceased and pad the application with a combination of real and false data.
Even someone who obtains the benefits legitimately may abuse them and commit a form of fraud. This involves working with another party who is willing to sell goods and services not allowed by the program but coding the purchases so they appear to be in full compliance. For example, a convenience store may allow the food stamp recipient to use a SNAP card to purchase hot foods that are not on the allowed list of purchases and ring up the order identifying the purchase as something that is found on that list.
Can Anyone Other Than Individuals Commit Food Stamp Fraud?
The popular perception is that food stamp fraud is committed only by those who secure the benefits by deception or who find ways to use those benefits for something other then the intended purpose. In reality, it is possible for business owners to participate in the fraud and face charges.
In 2015, two convenience store owners were convicted of defrauding the SNAP program by allowing patrons to exchange a portion of their benefits for cash. The cases were pursued in a joint effort by the New York State Attorney General’s office and the US Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General. Combined, the two cases presented a multi-year total of in excess of $1.6 million in food stamp fraud.
In these cases, the owners were found guilty and ordered to pay restitution ranging from slightly over $500,000 to just under $1,000,000. Jail time was also part of the sentencing, with minimum terms of one year and maximum terms of 7.5 years.
What Other Penalties Can Result?
The nature of the food stamp fraud and the extent of the damage will factor into what sort of penalty is imposed. The abuse of public assistance benefits can range anywhere from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class E felony. A Class A misdemeanor would apply if the amount of the fraud were less than a thousand dollars.
A Class E felony has occurred when the accused party possesses over five benefit cards in names other than the individual’s legal name. This same type of felony would include events in which the person holding three or more cards used them to obtain money, controlled substances, or other items not allowed by the SNAP program.
If convicted of the charges, the court will consider any previous legal issues including those involving fraud. Depending on the nature of the offense, the individual may be ordered to provide restitution and serve a period of time in jail.
Being convicted of fraud involving the SNAP program is serious. Doing so can prevent the ability to receive other forms of public assistance in the future as well as lead to a criminal record that makes securing a job more difficult. Any individual that is accused of this type of fraud should seek legal counsel immediately. A lawyer will be able to evaluate the case and determine what sort of defense would be in the best interests of the client.
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