What’s in the Shopping Cart?

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19306390 - hand holding empty shopping basket - shopping concept

 The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is pretty clear about how government food stamp benefits can be used. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which administers the program, prefers that beneficiaries buy healthy stuff like breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables, meats, fish, poultry products and seeds and plants, which can produce food (a garden) for the household to consume. A Deli owner from Columbia, South Carolina committed food stamp fraud by allowing SNAP beneficiary customers to buy prepared food from his small store. (There’s just one problem – FNS does not allow for the purchase of prepared food that can be consumed within the store or carried out.)

Approximately 23 million households receive around $74 billion in SNAP benefits each year. (The average payout per household is about $256 per month.) A USDA report shows that SNAP households spend about 40 cents per dollar on basic items such as meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs and bread, while another 40 cents per dollar goes for cereal, prepared foods, dairy products, rice and beans. The last 20 percent is typically spent on junk food including sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar. (It’s interesting that junk food is ok, but prepared food that has a better chance at being healthy is not allowed, but I digress.)

 The Deli owner allowed his SNAP beneficiary customers to make small purchases at his store, but he padded his own pocket with government funds by overcharging his customers. (He kept some of the money for himself, while giving a bit back to the SNAP recipient.) Over about three-and-a-half years, the Deli owner deposited $956,006 into his business account, withdrew about $158,000 in cash and put $714,000 in his personal bank account. (The rest of the money was used to make small purchases for his store.)

Since SNAP does not pay for prepared food and the deli didn’t stock sufficient food to justify the purchases recorded under the program, the 43-year-old Columbia, South Carolina man admitted to and pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison and must pay back more than $1 million for stealing from the government program that assists low-income families and individuals with purchasing food.

If you’re interested in learning what the top 20 items are found in a food stamp beneficiary’s shopping cart, check out this list. What today’s case reinforces for other retailers contemplating SNAP fraud through the sale of prepared food is that the government doesn’t like getting burned by criminals who exploit vulnerable individuals for personal gain. (It kind of leaves a bad taste if you know what I mean.)

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, Man Ordered to Pay $1 Million for Stealing Food Stamp Money,” posted on WLTX.com on March 15, 2018.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) – A Columbia man will spend two years in prison and must pay back over $1 million after stealing money from the food stamp program.

Christopher O’Berry, 43, was sentenced to 27 months behind bars by a federal judge for theft of government money.

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Larry Benson, Senior Director of Strategic Alliances, LexisNexis Risk Solutions - Government

Larry Benson is responsible for developing strategic partnerships and solutions for the government vertical. His expertise focuses on how government programs are defrauded by criminal groups, and the approaches necessary to prevent them from succeeding.

Mr. Benson has 30 years of experience in sales and business development. Before joining LexisNexis® Risk Solutions, he spent 12 years founding and managing two software technology startups. During the 1990s he spent 10 years as a Regional Director helping to grow a New England-based technology company from 300 employees to 7,000. He started his career with Martin Marietta Aerospace working on laser guided weapons and day/night vision systems.

A sought-after speaker and accomplished writer, Mr. Benson is the principal author of “Fraud of the Day,” a website dedicated to educating government officials about how criminals are defrauding government programs. He has co-authored WTF? Where’s the Fraud? How to Unmask and Stop Identity Fraud’s Drain on Our Government, and Data Personified, How Fraud is Changing the Meaning of Identity.

Benson holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Albright College, and earned two graduate degrees – a Master of Business Administration from Florida Institute of Technology, and a Master of Science in Engineering from Lehigh University.