If you’ve been faced with a violation involving SNAP charges, Food Stamp Trafficking or fraud, our Criminal Defense Law Firm can help.
Although the rate of the allegations has decreased over the years for these violations, allegations are still being made by the USDA and the penalties for these violations are severe.
What is SNAP?
SNAP, is a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that provides its participants with a certain monetary value in food benefits on a monthly basis. The benefits are disbursed by using an Electronic Benefits Transfer, (EBT).
However, there are a few limitations as well as exceptional differences between the SNAP benefits and a traditional bank card.
(1) The SNAP benefits that are dispersed on the EBT card are not for general use or for general spending in the traditional way that most cards are and
(2) No cash-back is allowed for disbursements from funds that have been reserved for food.
The EBT cards replaced food stamps in the late 1990’s. So now the funds are disbursed to the EBT cards by the state in which the SNAP recipient lives.
Both the SNAP program and the benefits that are associated with it are governed by the United States Code (7 U.S.C. Chapter 51) and the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. §278).
The program is run, regulated and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) Agency.
Common Violations associated with SNAP
The most common violations that are associated with SNAP consist of SNAP and Food Stamp Trafficking. This involves EBT trafficking that includes buying, selling, stealing or exchanging SNAP benefits for cash or for ineligible items such alcohol and cigarettes or for submitting false information.
Penalties for Violating SNAP Laws and Food Stamp Trafficking
There are three primary penalties that are enforced by the USDA when SNAP and Food Stamp related trafficking takes place.
1. Permanent disqualification
2. Temporary disqualification
3. A civil fine
These penalties are based on your ability to continue to do business and keep the doors of your retail store open.
Penalties that involve either permanent or temporary disqualification will have a tremendous impact your store’s revenue most of whom have had to close their business as a result. However, a civil fine may be as high as several thousands of dollars.
There are also those rare cases where violators face criminal charges for this offense as well which is based on the size and scope of the specifically alleged EBT trafficking that has taken place.
What to do if you Receive a SNAP Violation Letter
If your store accepts EBT cards, you may receive a SNAP Violation Letter from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). If so, it is because they are charging you with an alleged violation. If several pages have been attached to the back of your SNAP Violation Letter containing hundreds and sometimes thousands of transactions, then the Department believes such transactions amount to violations within several different categories.
To prevent this matter from escalating, please contact our office immediately after receiving your SNAP Violation Letter. You are given only TEN days to respond to the charges provided in the letter. Failure to respond within this timeframe will result in the Department likely suspending or terminating your privileges to accept EBT.
How Our Law Office Defend Against SNAP Violation Letters
Our criminal law firm is experienced in handling a large variety of SNAP Violation Letters that have been charged against our clients. We have expertise in all three phases of the SNAP Violations. They include the following:
Phase 1- The Charging Letter
The SNAP Violation Letter is the first step that is taken by the USDA designed to remove your store’s EBT license. This initial Violation Letter may or may not come with prior warnings and these letters can appear at any time.
There are several different types of allegations that are associated with a Charging Letter, however, most of them come with more detail that contains facts that are associated with each of the allegations. The USDA requires that a response is submitted within ten (10) days.
Our role in Phase 1 involves of taking the responsibility for all future communications with the USDA. We also compile evidence if needed, then prepare and deliver a thorough response to the allegations made against our clients. We then move forward based on the response received by the USDA’s representative.
Phase 2 – Administrative Appeal
Phase 2 involves a response from the USDA after they have reviewed the store’s reply to their original SNAP Violation Letter. Typically the letter will state that the USDA still believes that they are valid in which a second letter is submitted detailing their decision to either suspend or disqualify your store based on the allegations that were initially spelled out in their original letter. At this point, you have 10 days to appeal this decision. If no appeal is made your store will be left with a suspended or disqualified license.
Once retained, our criminal law office will then file all necessary paperwork and correspond with the USDA to notify their Administrative Appeal agency of our intentions to appeal their decision.
We will work on your behalf to obtain any and all additional evidence that could be useful in this appeal on your behalf. We will also draft up an appellate brief that will contain all of the evidence, regulatory and federal codes, case law, and any other information that we feel is appropriate that best demonstrates that the allegations charged against you are inaccurate.
Phase 3 – Judicial Appeal
If the USDA still does not overturn its decision the next legal step is to file a Judicial Review that takes place in the local Federal District Court.
It would involve conducting discovery, filing motions and having an actual trial before the Honorable Judge. Our attorneys are competent in this area and have successfully handled several of these cases in the past. Please contact our office for more details and about handling your case as well.
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