A federal indictment was unsealed this week in Savannah, Georgia that charged 54 people with a huge statewide scheme to defraud the US food stamp program.
This indictment is one of the biggest food supplement fraud programs ever, according to US Attorney Edward Tarver.
The fraud detailed in the indictment involved buying over $18 million in WIC vouchers and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program stamps, which are reserved for the neediest families in the nation. These benefits were bought for cash through several grocery stores in Garden City, Savannah and other towns in the state. Then the vouchers were reclaimed for the full cash amount.
Some of the other cities involved in the fraud included Atlanta, Marietta, Lagrange, Stone Mountain and Lithonia.
Also, 34 others were charged in other indictments for selling WIC vouchers and food stamps for money. Those people have been charged with selling over $1000 of their own benefits or those of children.
The indictment alleges that some of the defendants conspired to open grocery stores so they could buy food stamp benefits and WIC stamps for cash.
Tarver said this week that the federal government alleges that the defendants stole benefits for taxpayers that are designed to feed needy families and children.
About 70 of the 88 people arrested were apprehended on Tuesday, which started early in the morning. A special agent on the case for the FBI said the action is a good example of what law enforcement can do when the whole community works together.
The 34-page indictment stated that one of the grocery stores was Super Kids Variety Store in Savannah. It was managed by Henry Ward.
The scheme they used involved buying over $18 million of benefits from December 2009 until December 2012.
Once the store was opened and subsequently approved as a vendor for food stamps, many defendants went through low income communities and asked food stamp participants to exchange benefits for cash.
The alleged criminals then purchased food stamp benefits for cash at a fraction of what USDA paid, for what it thought was legit purchases under the food stamp programs. The defendants also have been accused of conspiring to commit money laundering of more than $18 million.
About Money Laundering
Money laundering is any activity that tries to convert money gotten from illegal activities so that it seems that the money was made legally. Money laundering charges often are tied to other federal crimes, including racketeering, conspiracy and fraud.
Punishment for money laundering can be fines of up to $500,000, and prison terms of up to 20 years.
The largest money laundering case in US history was in 2013 by Liberty Reserve, which is in Costa Rica. It is alleged that that organization laundered an astounding $6 billion in funds from crime syndicates around the world.