As the Trump administration is pushing new initiatives that would help people become less dependent on food stamps and other forms of government assistance, they are also cracking down on criminals who commit food stamp fraud for financial gain.
The food stamp program is a federally-funded program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and federal investigators are most often the ones who catch those engaged in fraudulent activities.
Sometimes, these investigations can occur at the state level because state agencies are responsible for administering welfare programs such as food stamps.
Investigators often uncover millions of dollars worth of food stamp fraud, mostly from people who run convenience stores in low-income areas where many patrons receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
To show how many millions of dollars these criminals have taken away from the federal government, here are the seven biggest takedowns of food stamp fraud of 2017.
1. Ohio Convenience Store Owner Sentenced to 33 Months in Prison for $2.8 Million in Food Stamp Fraud
A former Ohio convenience store owner got caught carrying out a $2.8 million food stamp fraud scheme where he allowed benefit recipients to exchange their food stamps for cash.
The USDA revealed in an audit that the store, Breaden Market, cashed in on SNAP benefits more than ten times the amount of larger stores in the area, raising red flags among investigators.
A judge eventually convicted and sentenced George Rafidi, 62, to 33 months in prison in February and ordered him to pay that $2.8 million back.
2. Florida Investigators Discover More than $20 Million in Food Stamp Fraud
The Division of Public Assistance Fraud, which works within Florida’s Department of Children and Families to investigate welfare fraud, uncovered $20,719,036 worth of food stamp fraud in South Florida over the past fiscal year.
The agency said it uncovered the majority of fraud when paging through SNAP benefit applications stating fraudulent household information.
3. Baltimore Man Sentenced to Four Years for $3.7 Million Food Stamp Fraud
A Baltimore store owner got slapped with a four-year prison sentence for carrying out $3.7 million worth of food stamp fraud.
Mohammad Shafiq, 51, was one of 14 other Baltimore-area retailers sentenced for $16 million worth of food stamp fraud, where they exchanged SNAP benefits for cash.
The judge ordered Shafiq to pay back that $3.7 million to the federal government and serve three years of supervised release following the end of his sentence.
4. Three Wisconsin Men Who Carried Out $1.2 Million Food Stamp Fraud Sentenced to Hard Time
A judge sentenced three Milwaukee, Wisconsin, convenience store owners—Kanwar Gill, 67, Raviinder Gill, 27, and George Nance, 59—to prison terms ranging from 15-20 months in October after the three had been found guilty of exchanging cash for SNAP benefits.
Their store, Quick N EZ, had been an authorized retailer that accepts food stamp benefits, but the $1.2 million in benefits the store redeemed was far beyond the amount the small convenience store was expected to redeem.
Records show that all three men had been ordered to pay back the $1.2 million in fraudulently earned money.
5. Seven Food Stamp Fraud Recipients Plead Guilty to Taking Part in $5 Million Food Stamp Fraud
Although most people who carry out massive food stamp fraud are store owners and shopkeepers, sometimes the beneficiaries themselves take part in the fraud.
Seven South Carolina women who received SNAP benefits as part of a $5 million scheme pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of more than $20,000.
The judge, however, ruled that the women icould avoid jail time if they paid back the fraudulently-obtained money by the end of 2017.
The store owners involved in that scheme were not so lucky—three out of the five store owners faced five-year prison terms and were expected to pay back up to $5 million to the federal government.
6. Fundamentalist Mormon Sect Conducts $11 Million Food Stamp Fraud
Not all food stamp fraudsters are convenience store owners or food stamp recipients.
The FBI recently took down a fundamentalist Mormon sect in Utah after discovering that Lyle Jeffs, the former polygamous sect leader, orchestrated an $11 million food stamp scheme that involved transferring benefits to a communal warehouse and several front companies.
Jeffs reportedly had several female members of the sect carry out food stamp trafficking.
A judge sentenced Jeffs to five years in prison and ordered him to pay $1 million of that money back to the federal government.
7. Iraqi Immigrant Pleads Guilty to $1.4 Million Food Stamp Fraud
An Iraqi immigrant pleaded guilty to $1.4 million in food stamp fraud in November for conspiring with others to defraud the U.S. government.
Ali Ratib Daham, 40, of Maine, gave customers cash in exchange for SNAP and Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) program benefits. He then redeemed the full value of the benefits to obtain more money from the government fraudulently.
The naturalized U.S. citizen is expected to face a harsh prison sentence for his crime—he faces up to 20 years behind bars and will most likely be expected to pay back the $1.4 million to the government.
Honorable mention: Ohio ‘Food Stamp Millionaire’ Sentenced to 30 Days in Jail for Welfare Fraud
While Ohio resident Pascal Mahvi did not carry out a million-dollar food stamp trafficking scheme like the others on this list, he gets an honorable mention for taking welfare benefits as a millionaire.
A judge sentenced Ohio resident Mahvi, 66, to 30 days behind bars in October for falsely claiming more than $8,300 in food stamp benefits despite having millions of dollars in the bank.