A sweeping Alabama investigation into food stamp fraud uncovered a massive cheating scam that cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollars and found that the scammers wired some of their profits to Yemen, according to Alabama.com
Operation T-Bone began in February, after a man shoplifted steaks and other items at a Walmart in Gardendale, Alabama. The suspect disclosed to authorities that he stole the merchandise to give to two convenience stores.
After speaking with Walmart’s Global Investigations Unit, authorities learned that the retail giant was already investigating the stores and their managers for EBT fraud.
After further investigation, law enforcement found that "numerous" Birmingham-area convenience stores participated in the same scheme — buying EBT cards from recipients for about 50 cents on the dollar.
"They would then go to a wholesaler where they would buy goods and bring them back to their stores to sell at a further inflated price," according to the report. "In return, the person who sold their EBT card now had cash to buy items not allowed to be purchased under the government system, such as alcohol, tobacco and drugs."
Authorities arrested 17 people on charges of public assistance fraud, fraudulent use of a credit card and theft of property, and issued warrants for 242 others.
The problem is so widespread that Jefferson County (Alabama) Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Raulston said law enforcement "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."
In August, Fox News
reported on a Government Accountability Report
that found rampant food stamp fraud in an 11-state review.
Authorities caught food stamp recipients "selling and bartering their benefits online for art, housing and cash," according to Fox News, citing the report.
Due to shrinking law enforcement budgets and the growing number of people who receive food stamps, the GAO report stated that tracking and prosecuting fraud has become increasingly challenging.
In September, the FBI announced
the arrests of 11 people in the Detroit area for criminal food stamp fraud.
In April, Missouri Rep. Rick Brattin told Newsmax TV
that he had recently sponsored a bill to prohibit food stamp recipients from buying luxury food items — "cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak" — when many of the Americans who pay into the entitlement program cannot afford to purchase those same things.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank coined Brattin’s legislation "the surf-and-turf law."
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