Eighty-eight people in Georgia are facing federal charges in an alleged food stamp scheme. 54 of those individuals are charged with setting up fake grocery stores in Atlanta, Savannah, Macon and other Georgia cities to buy food stamps for cash.
U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver announced the charges Tuesday. In a conference call, he explained how the scheme worked.
“The benefits would be purchased for pennies on the dollar, and then they would turn around and redeem those benefits for the full value to the federal government,” said Tarver.
Those charged in the case operated the scheme between 2009 and 2012
“They would stock some items on the shelf to make it appear as if they were actual grocery stores but the only transaction that took place in these facilities were individuals who would come in to sell their food stamp or their food program benefits.
Prosecutors say the Georgians charged in the case purchased more than $18 million in food stamps and other benefits. It’s one of the largest cases of alleged fraud involving the federal food program.
In a statement Tuesday, the Department of Justice released the names, ages, and locations of those charged in the incidents, even issuing a “fraudsters beware” warning as a promise to investigate and prosecute anyone working to defraud government programs funded by taxpayers.
“This investigation and prosecution should send a zero-tolerance message to those individuals who created businesses for the purpose of specifically defrauding the taxpaper funded WIC and SNAP programs,” said Karen-Citizen Wilcox, Special Agent-in-Charge of USDA Investigations.
A second, separate indictment involves 34 people who allegedly sold their WIC and Food Stamp benefits for cash, which is a crime.
Each of the 54 people listed in the fake grocery store incident face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The defendants charged with selling their benefits face the same fine, but a five year maximum prison sentence.