Police raided 11 locations near Birmingham, Alabama, on June 3 as part of an ongoing investigation in to Electronic Benefit Transfer card fraud.
Law enforcement officers from several agencies arrested 17 individuals on charges including public assistance fraud, theft of property and fraudulent use of a credit card.
“This is huge for us,” commented Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls, reported AL.com.
Falls explained how the corner store owners would buy EBT cards from recipients of food assistance programs at 50 cents on the dollar, meaning a card with $150 on it would be purchased for $75.
The store owners would then buy food from wholesalers to sell in their stores at marked-up prices.
“Part of the problem, in my opinion, is now they don’t have their food stamps card so they don’t have the money to take care of their families or themselves,” stated Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Raulston. “I think it’s a huge cycle of remaining impoverished.”
But the impact of the scheme went much further.
“One of the biggest issues is they are marking up these items in the stores and charging more than what retailers would charge and they are in the middle of food deserts with no transportation so they don’t have a lot of options,” Raulston explained. “It’s not only the EBT card beneficiaries, but you’ve got the working poor paying marked-up prices. They’re getting ripped off.”
Raulston asserted that those selling the cards were driven by the desire to buy alcohol or drugs, items which cannot be bought with an EBT card in Alabama.
“They’re selling their cards to get those things,” she claimed.
Authorities also allege that some of the profits from the scheme were being wired to Yemen.
The fraud operation only came to light when a shoplifter was arrested in February for trying to steal steaks from a Wal-Mart store. He was stealing the items to be sold in two corner stores, which he named for police. Further investigations then uncovered the EBT fraud.
The June 3 arrests were successful, but authorities are far from putting an end to the problem.
“It is enormous, it is pervasive,” Raulston emphasized. “We actually had to cut off the number we were going to prosecute this round, and this will be an ongoing investigation and prosecution for our office.”
Photo Credit: Jefferson County Jail via AL.com