Nationwide food stamp fraud is increasing after a decade of decline, U.S. officials say.
According to a report from the Office of the Inspector General within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in fiscal year 2015 more than 1,900 previously approved retailers for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) were permanently disqualified for trafficking or falsifying applications, and another 700 were sanctioned for other violations such as selling ineligible items.
In total, 2,693 stores were sanctioned or disqualified. That represents a 36 percent increase over the rate five years ago.
In fiscal year 2015, the department reviewed more than 17,000 transactions and took actions against 2,693 stores, which is about a 16 percent rate of fraud among the transactions that were investigated.
The transactions that were investigated were not chosen at random.
Overall, the rate of fraud and abuse has dropped over the last 15 years from an estimated 3.5 percent to 1.5 percent. Over the last 10 years more than 11,000 retailers have been permanently disqualified for SNAP trafficking.
Multiple times a year the Office of the Inspector General releases reports highlighting investigations into millions of dollars in SNAP fraud that result in restitution payments, probation and even prison sentences for the offenders.
A look back over the last few months of reports reveals a nationwide pattern of SNAP fraud, as well as fraud in other government food programs.
In 2017 alone more than 10 convictions in SNAP fraud cases have been announced by the department.
- January 11, 2017 — A former account executive in New York was sentenced to 21 months in prison and was ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution for selling EBT terminals to unauthorized SNAP retailers. He sold an estimated 50 unauthorized terminals leading to $6.5 million in unauthorized sales.
- January 11, 2017 — A Michigan storeowner and manager were sentenced to 33 months in prison and 20 months in prison, respectively, and both were ordered to pay $722,000 in restitution for SNAP fraud. The storeowner was an illegal immigrant and will be deported after serving her prison sentence.
- January 23, 2017 — A New Mexico resident was sentenced to two years of probation and was ordered to pay $4,600 in restitution for paying a New Mexico Human Services Department employee $100 to process a fraudulent SNAP application in his name. The employee was the main subject of the investigation.
- February 13, 2017 — An Oklahoma storeowner agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a civil claim he was trafficking SNAP benefits. The owner was accused of exchanging SNAP benefits for cash at an increased rate.
- February 21, 2017 — An Ohio storeowner was sentenced to 33 months in prison and was ordered to pay $2.5 million in restitution for SNAP fraud. Twenty-nine SNAP recipients were charged with fraud as part of the investigation, resulting in a total of 22 months in prison, 78 years of probation and $214,000 in restitution. The estimated fraud from the offenses was $2.6 million.
- March 3, 2017 — A pair of brothers in California were sentenced to 41 months in prison for SNAP trafficking, and were ordered to pay $12.1 million in restitution and forfeited approximately $1.5 million in seized assets.
- March 27, 2017 — A Maryland store clerk was sentenced to 18 months in prison and was ordered to pay $3.5 million in restitution for SNAP fraud; the storeowner in the case has not yet been sentenced.
- March 8, 2017 — A New Jersey storeowner was sentenced to two years in prison, ordered to pay $900,000 in restitution, and ordered to forfeit $370,000 in connection with a scheme that resulted in $2.3 million in fraudulent SNAP benefits over a four-year period.
- March 14, 2017 — A Florida defendant was sentenced to three years’ probation and was ordered to pay $550,000 in restitution for conspiring with his father to commit SNAP fraud. The case is still proceeding against the father, but the investigation uncovered $1.4 million in fraudulent SNAP and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food service benefits.
- April 7, 2017 — A Connecticut store employee was sentenced to $2.5 years in prison and was ordered to pay $1.5 million in restitution for SNAP fraud.
- April 14, 2017 — A Florida store clerk was sentenced to three months in prison with supervised release and was ordered to serve 200 hours of community service and was also ordered to pay $224,000 in restitution with a co-conspirator. The investigation was part of a larger effort that has resulted in 21 convictions and more than $14.4 million in restitution.