Law enforcement authorities in Jacksonville and throughout Florida made several arrests of convenience store owners for alleged food stamp fraud according to an article on Jacksonville.com. The article indicates that at least four Jacksonville convenience store owners were arrested for food stamp fraud relating to the Ethio Shell station and the M&Y Food Store and at least 17 more people were arrested across the state. The arrests were apparently part of an ongoing undercover operation into alleged food stamp fraud with more arrests likely according to the article.
The food stamp system in states across the country, also called the Electronic Benefit Transfer system, authorizes people to purchase certain items from stores that are authorized to accept food stamps. In the past, the food stamps were actual paper coupons, but now the system has been modernized so that people in the food stamp program get a card that looks like a regular credit or debit card.
Traditional food stamp fraud involves people lying on their application for food stamps and receiving the benefits when they were not entitled to receive them. However, in this case it appears that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) was looking into a different kind of possible food stamp fraud. Because food stamps are only permitted to be used for certain merchandise, it is against program rules and the law for food stamp recipients to use, and store owners to accept, food stamps for unauthorized items such as liquor, cigarettes and prescription drugs.
In this case, the FDLE is apparently alleging that store owners accepted approximately $3.5 million in food stamp benefits payments last year for unauthorized items and also skimmed cash from those food stamp transactions. The FDLE apparently used undercover officers to go into the various convenience stores and use the food stamps card to buy the unauthorized items and look for improper skimming by convenience store owners.