Arizona authorities have broken up a massive food stamp fraud ring in Phoenix and seized almost $700,000 in cash.
K&S convenience store workers Kameel Sweiss, Ameer Sweiss, and Faday Sweiss were arrested on Wednesday on charges of suspicion of illegally conducting an enterprise, fraudulent schemes and artifices, money laundering, unlawful use of food stamps, and computer tampering.
“People were essentially selling their cards to [the] store,” said spokesperson Stephanie Grisham.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne says the bust is the fifth of its kind this year and that this is the largest to date. Horne told Fox News host Neil Cavuto that food stamp fraud is a growing problem, as 47,635,297 people now receive taxpayer-funded food stamps.
“It happens quite a bit,” said Horne. “It’s done in two ways. One way is a small purchase, say, a bag of potato chips, treated as though it were a very large purchase, and then they will give the customer some cash in addition to the potato chips, or they will just give them their card–let’s say there’s $300 on the card. They will give them $100, and then they have $200 left on the card, and they will keep ringing up as though they’re sales during the day, and they will end up with that $200.”
Horne says authorities seized $550,000 of cash from a safety deposit box, $80,000 of cash on hand, and additional EBT cards. “It was a total of about $700,000 that was seized,” says Horne.
Earlier this year, Sean Hannity of Fox News teamed up with the Government Accountability Institute on a one-hour investigation into “The Business of Food Stamps.” The report revealed widespread fraud by merchants and food stamp recipients, food stamp benefits being sold using Internet websites and social media, weak fraud prevention security measures, and big crony capitalist contracts from companies who profit from the growth of government programs like the EBT program.
JP Morgan, who is one of three companies who administer Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card payments, has made at least $560,492,596 since 2004 off the food stamp program.
Horne says “the convenience stores that are willing to do this are the ones that are the really major criminals” but added that 22 customers have also been arrested.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food stamp program, only has 100 federal employees in charge of merchant fraud prevention yet boasts that its food stamp fraud rate is 1%. However, according to the USDA’s own website, that figure is based on data from 2006-2008.
Since January 2009, the number of individuals on food stamps has skyrocketed from 31.9 million to the current record high 47.6 million. By comparison, in 1969 just 2.8 million Americans received food stamps.