The extent of the SNAP food program fraud came to the attention of Congress in 2013. A report was tabled detailing the dramatic rise of fraud violations. Congress ordered a crackdown to be conducted, and any retail store found guilty of these violations was to be closed immediately. In 2014, the United States Department began using an ALERT system to identify violations. In the same year, thousands of stores were closed down. The whip did not spare even the stores found guilty of minor violations. The government has not relented in its efforts to investigate and disqualify retail owners. Any business that receives payments through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) faces the risk of noncompliance. A SNAP violation charge can lead to gross losses from the hefty fines applied. Businesses also stand to be disqualified from the program.
When you receive a SNAP violation charge in Los Angeles, it is in the best interest of your business to consult with a SNAP violation lawyer. The law is not lenient on offenders. As a small retailer or convenience store owner, most of your revenue comes from the proceeds received from EBT transactions. An attorney will look at the charge and advise you on the best course of action. When you receive a charge letter as a business, you have a limited time frame to respond. In most cases, the USDA will give you 10 days. When this time expires. You will be bound by their ruling without the right to defend yourself. It is also important for you to understand the SNAP investigation process so as to stay informed.
SNAP violation Investigations
The SNAP violation investigation process begins when the USDA or SNAP agency notices inconsistent information. The alert may have originated from the quality control department, a computer match or from a tip. Once an inconsistency is identified, the quality control department will begin investigations. In most cases, they ask a series of questions to audit the financial management of the store. For instance, if a store receives low income, and yet they are able to meet their monthly obligations, then this means that part of their income is unreported. If you can explain the discrepancy to their satisfaction, then you will be cleared.
It is important to note that the SNAP agency and the USDA do not work alone. The SNAP program interfaces with other departments such as the child support office, unemployment office, and other government agencies. For instance, when a client situation changes, say they go to prison, the system interface will give an alert to the SNAP agency. The SNAP fraud system also has a hotline number where the public can call to report any form of violation. This means that the agency can get an anonymous tip from anyone. While a trigger does not mean that you are in violation, it is best to consult with a violation attorney to understand your options. The agency expects you to respond to their charge letter as they carry out investigations.
Once the agency discovers an irregularity, they will contact the parties of interest in the matter. In most cases, you will receive a letter asking you to provide certain documentation. The most common inquiry the agency asks is for you verify your income. The investigators can also make visits to your home or business. They are also mandated to obtain pictures of your property. The investigators can also conduct an undercover investigation if they deem it fit. All beneficiaries of the food program use the EBT system. This system makes a record of all the purchases made using the card. The card enables the agency to track all unusual trends in your purchases. A spike in the SNAP sales can also trigger an investigation. The SNAP agencies will also liaise with other departments when conducting investigations. They also have improved technology to track fraud and trafficking violations. In light of this, you need to arm yourself with a good lawyer to plead your case. In some instances, you can receive a warning for minor violations.
For you to be convicted of a SNAP violation charge, the evidence presented must demonstrate that you deceived the agency so as to benefit from the program. While the government is stern on such issues, they understand the possibility of computer and human errors. For instance, if you received an overpayment and accidentally left out this information, then you may not be prosecuted for fraud. In most cases, SNAP fraud cases may take long. This is because the investigators must demonstrate that indeed a law was violated. There are instances where SNAP fraud investigations have taken even two years. This is why you need a violation attorney to help prove your case or offer a plea bargain depending on the allegations presented.
If the state agency proves that you are guilty of fraud, then you may be required to attend a hearing. You may also receive a letter to appear in court. You can be summoned under the Waiver of Intentional Program Violation. In most cases, a summon points to a more serious case where you intentionally deceived the state, concealed facts or you offered misleading information. Trafficking charges can also be heard in court.
SNAP Violation Penalties
The USDA is mandated to enforce a civil fine, a temporary disqualification or a permanent disqualification for those found in violation of the SNAP laws. A permanent or temporary disqualification can have a huge impact on your revenue as a company. A civil fine can also cripple your retail store financially. It is also not unusual to face criminal charges for violations. This mainly depends on the frequency and the magnitude of the violation. As is evident, businesses and individuals stand to lose a lot when convicted of a SNAP violation. This is why it is prudent to seek legal help. The expertise and experience of the SNAP violation lawyer can have a huge impact on the outcome of your case.