A three-month welfare fraud investigation in Fulton County results in three retailers being arrested and charged.
Usually the public hears of people lying on their applications to get particular Welfare benefits, but this investigation targeted retailers who were accepting EBT food stamp cards for unapproved items.
During the investigation, undercover informants were able to use cards that should only be used for approved foods to buy cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and beer.
“It’s such an unusual type of arrest for us to go after the retailers but it shows you the extent of the abuse,” said Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino.
A three-month long investigation in Fulton County ends with four arrests and a lot of evidence
“You can see that there’s alcoholic beverages, there’s chewing tobacco, cigarettes,” Giardino said.
Following complaints from the public, a joint investigation launched between the sheriff’s office, DSS and New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.
The focus was retailers who were accepting Electronic Benefits Transfer cards as payment for items not approved under the food stamp program.
“We saw spikes in EBT usages at some of our smaller retailers that really didn’t coincide with the products that they were selling,” said DSS Principle Social Welfare Examiner Kristina Ruggeri.
“We were able to obtain a benefit card from the state and I had an undercover agent and we went around to different businesses and proceeded to purchase items that you see in front of you,” said Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Keith Manners.
The three retailers all reside in the city of Gloversville.
A cashier at Country Farms Store, the manager of the Fulton Street Deli, and the owner of Primo’s Pizza, Pasta and Deli are facing charges for accepting EBT cards for purchases of items including beer, gasoline and hot food.
The owner of the pizza shop was also paying for a food stamp recipient’s cell phone bill with cash and reimbursing himself through her EBT card.
“There’s no tax on snap benefits so everything that was purchased went through without tax on it,” Manners said.
Retailers are also accused of trading cash for funds on the EBT cards
“That’s a big problem because then you’re putting $50 dollars in the hands of a drug user who’s now going out and getting that and as you’ve heard we have an opioid epidemic not only in the country but in Fulton County,” said Fulton County District Attorney Chad Brown.
An investigation sends the message to retailers that completing illegal transactions will result in criminal charges.
The fourth person arrested was a food stamp recipient who was illegally buying pizza with her card.
Four other recipients are now disqualified from the program for a length of time for their misuse of the benefits.
As for the three retailers -- they will likely face consequences on a federal level including losing their retail, alcohol and lottery licenses.